PARIS — Having in four seasons resuscitated dormant French fashion house Carven, designer Guillaume Henry now holds the keys to the brand’s first women’s wear store under his tenure, at 36 Rue Saint Sulpice on the Left Bank here. Its doors open today.
The boutique, once the spot of a 19th-century brothel, has had numerous lives before becoming a Carven store.
“I stumbled across this boutique by chance and thought, this is perfectly situated in the heart of Saint Germain and opposite the Saint Sulpice church,” said Henry.
Eric Chevallier — who is also responsible for visual merchandising at Paris’ concept store Colette — was called in to design the Carven space. “I wanted to use all the codes that are emblematic of Paris daily life,” he explained, while standing with Henry in the pristine, home-like 800-square-foot store.
From the ground floor, for instance, winds a Haussmannian-like staircase leading up to the salon-style space with three fitting rooms and long mirrors that swivel and were inspired by the rearview mirror of a Porsche Speedster.
Set on two floors, the shop mixes wood, tiles and a palette of black and white. Furniture was conceived by French design duo Domeau & Pérès. “We also trawled the flea markets for old furniture that we reupholstered,” said Chevallier, pointing to the school-like benches that were recovered in a leather fabric.
The ground floor houses the clothes set on specially made fiberglass Stockman busts with wooden heads. Accessories are toward the back of the store.
“This is not a luxury store, but we wanted to maintain the roots of the couture house that are in the details of the clothes. The store is a place to come for a rendezvous, like going to a cafe,” said Henry.
In the summer collection, Henry emphasizes dresses and pointed out a model called Luxor with a colonnaded print on the front. Dresses start from 300 euros, or $422 at current exchange, while the most expensive item carried is a maroon leather jacket for 1,100 euros, or $1,548.
Respecting the legacy of founder Carmen de Tommaso’s fresh democratic take on Parisian chic in the Forties, Henry has repositioned the brand as a hip go-to label for youthful Parisian elegance, offering day-through-night pieces imbued with quirky modern twists.
Under the measured stewardship of Henry, Carven’s distribution network in one year has grown from zero to around 300 sales points, with France being the label’s largest market. For now, the brand advertises only at home and in Japan.
Carven began its U.S. push this season, with Henry putting in a series of personal appearances during a recent cross-country Barneys New York tour. Carven is among key names featured in the relaunch of the retailer’s Co-op section and stores.
Henry, who closely monitors the commercial development of the brand, said the response from customers was enthusiastic. “Whereas in France, it has been seen as the relaunch of a sleeping beauty,” he said. “Over there, it’s not even the case of being a dusty brand. It’s a new brand.”
The designer has been steadily bulking up Carven’s accessories collection, offering a full bag line this season. Robert Clergerie also designed two shoe styles for the house.
Carven’s parent company Groupe SCM last September sold the firm’s fragrance license to Groupe Jacques Bogart. However, Henry continues to oversee the artistic direction of the beauty activity. Aware that such a business is “a whole machine in itself,” Henry said the house wanted to focus solely on the clothing line.
“We tend to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. It’s just a question of integrity; it’s really instinctive,” he continued.