When one is greeted by infinite shelves of buttons, in every colour imaginable, upon entering the resurrected house of Carven HQ in Paris, it is clear to see the the brand is growing fast. The new lease of life is down to new creative director, Guillaume Henry, with his strong unwavering visual aesthetic and reimagined silhouette that have women with busy lives buying up his collections in droves, much to retailers' delight. His approach is one in which the woman wears the clothes, not the other way around. As he says, "I love when the way you dress reveals who you are, rather than 'look at the cool shirt I'm wearing from that brand' - I don't really believe in that."
Meeting Henry is to experience true talent in today's fashion scene. An alumnus of Givenchy and Paule Ka, it is clear to see he has honed his ability at projecting a laser-sharp brand message, expressing it through small advertising campaigns, presentations and runway collections, and his first store in Paris. He was keen to create his collections using high-quality fabrics that are priced in that sweet spot between the high-street and luxury. He is quick to clarify, "When I started we were just three people in the office, so how can we pretend to be a luxury brand?" His fashion is easy to wear and universally appealing - conventional at first glance but always with an underlying clever twist. "I don't like to get inspired by science fiction; I like to get inspired by real things," he laughs.
Henry's practical-yet-sophisticated approach extends to his two-season-old menswear collection, which has a sleek and minimal look that is already proving popular with men who want the same versatility from their wardrobes as their female counterparts.
Paul Baptiste, the Shop at Bluebird's buying director, explains: "the clever thing about the brand is that Guillaume manages to design with an eye that attracts all age groups, which is perfect in our store as we have so much mother/daughter shopping sessions. It really helps the brand's appeal. From the first day we saw it in the showroom, we knew it was going to work for us - so much so, we booked a pop-up shop with them straight away, and it's been a storming success ever since."
The impact Henry's Carven has had doesn't happen very often. It is the type of success that has fashion insiders breathless to see his every next move, celebrities wearing his clothes on and off the red carpet, and customers stalking stores to catch the latest collection. In the last season alone, he grew his number of stockists by 80 per cent, a remarkable feat given these tough economic times. All this has been achieved in only four years of taking on the brand, which had lain dormant since the early '90s.
He continues the tradition of innovation from the founder of the House of Carven, Carmen de Tommaso (or Madame Carven as she is known), who today is 103. She launched the brand as an haute couture house, frustrated by not being able to find clothing to fit the "petite" woman. Madame Carven and Henry's fates were interlinked when she became his "godmother" in fashion, presenting him with a fashion award in 2004, years before he ever considered joining Carven.
The Carven woman is a practical one. As Henry points out, "I like when a woman can be dressed the same way from the early day to the late evening. I don't believe in the woman who is going to spend four hours in her bathroom. I don't know any girls like that. They always wake up late! I believe in the dress she'll wear all day long - maybe she's got a pair of stilettos in her bag, just to change the shoes, and then she can go out dancing."
Carven's newest pop-up shop is at Harvey Nichols from September 3rd - November 9th, 4th Floor Harvey Nichols London