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Guillaume Henry knew from a young age that he wanted to be a designer. He got his first sewing machine when he was 12 and his first wooden mannequin when he was 14. Launching his own label at the tender age of 21, his success would eventually follow him through to his experience at Givenchy and Paule Ka.
Credited with relaunching and revitalizing the brand, Henry joined Carven as head designer back in 2009, bringing a unique and energetic direction to both its womenswear and menswear lines while retaining the brand’s nearly 70-year-old heritage.
HYPEBEAST recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Henry in Shanghai, where the Parisian brand has opened its latest location.
How do you decompress from your job for designing both women’s and men’s line?
I don’t feel any pressure, it’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s more a question of organization and how to always find the pleasure to do it. The thing that I do to not get too stressed or too tired about one idea is to try to create different stories for men and women because I’m working on both at the same time. For example, the female pre-collection and male collection are made at the same time, but I always try to find a specific scenario for each so I don’t get bored.
As you know, many designers claim that they design clothes that they themselves would want to wear. Do you design for yourself as well?
I never design for me. I do wear Carven because I obviously quite like what we do, but I never wanted to be a designer to create my own wardrobe. Personally, I’m not a super fashion addict or a crazy customer. I love fashion more for the idea of fashion because you have the opportunity to create characters and tell stories. That’s what I like about fashion. For me, it’s not a way to create my ideal wardrobe – it’s a way to create ideal stories.
What’s the theme for Carven’s Spring/Summer 2014 menswear collection?
We had a painter in mind, but a painter that’s painting during his weekends because we always liked the idea of quickness when it’s a bit twisted. We like charm and elegance but with spontaneity. For spring/summer, I looked at how all the famous artists used to dress because for me artists are a fantastic inspiration. To get inspired in fashion, I never look at fashion. I like to look at things that are not coordinated with fashion in an obvious way
I was looking at Picasso, Nicolas de Staël, Francis Bacon and Jack O Metty, and the way they were dressed. It was really easy, but very chique, elegant and unique. So we bring in that idea with a Carven twist, which is with a sense of colors and I hope something fun. We like enthusiasm.
“I love fashion more for the idea of fashion because you have the opportunity to create characters and tell stories. That’s what I like about fashion.”
Guillaume Henry on why he designs clothes
You mentioned that you can blend in those inspirations from art. So, what do you think about the current intersection between art and fashion?
I do believe that it’s working, I like the idea. Because fashion is an industry, but also a way to express yourself. Fashion for me is not art but it’s between the industry of doing business and pure creation.
How about music?
Music is a huge inspiration as well because it’s telling emotions. For me, music is as important as perfume for example, because it creates the mood, the taste, the perfect essence, or atmosphere.
So what do you think about menswear right now and what do you foresee for future seasons?
For Carven, I hope it’s gonna still be something that you can wear, but with inspiration behind it. I love when clothes are something to cover yourself with because that’s the thing about men’s clothes, but it has to be more than that. It has to tell something.
How about for yourself?
I think it’s gonna be the same. In terms of outfits, I kind of have a uniform for everyday wear. I wear navy or black pants and most of the time; I’m wearing a white T-shirt.
So if there was only one must-have in a men’s wardrobe, what would it be?
I like basics, so it would be a white T-shirt
“Fashion for me is not art but it’s between the industry of doing business and pure creation.”
Guillaume Henry talks about his view of the current intersection of fashion and art
Carven opened its first menswear store in Paris and now a new one in Shanghai. Is there any connection between the two locations?
Carven is definitely a Parisian brand, but it’s turned into something international. It has no frontier, so I don’t see any difference between what we’ve done in Paris and what we’ve done in Shanghai. The only thing is we try to connect what we do with the place where we’re building shops. There are a lot of similarities between the shops, but there’s a real concern about where we create them and how they can cater to the mood of the city, how can they cater to the way people are shopping from one country to another.
I saw your Paris shop is very clean like your style, but during spring and summer, it’s a lot more colorful. So how would define colors at Carven?
I think our colors are kind of playful, but not too extreme. For example, last winter it was inspired by uniform suits, costumes you would wear to work, but we did bring some primary colors like bright red and blue and fun turquoise. So there’s always fun colors in our collection. I also like to play with colors that are not usually seen for men. I like to use pink, soft yellow, mint green. I’m a huge fan of colors. Sometimes for me great clothes are not just about great cuts, but also the color.
Sometimes it’s just plain colors and the way you mix colors. For example last summer, we mixed these kinds of strange straw green-yellow with bright acid colors and was creating something. It’s about when there’s interaction and connection between colors together.
I did see you don’t actually wear that many accessories. What do you think about men’s accessories in fashion?
To me, the best accessory for men is a pocket!
Because Carven has been around for so many years, will you try to take Carven’s heritage and put it into new designs?
Actually, I did look at the archive because Carven did start in the late ’40s. But looking at the archives, you realize what has been done in the ’40s and ’50s were perfect for those times. So the idea I kept was not a historical one, but rather the idea of being right for the times and to bring some freshness to them because when you look at the archives, you really see Carven was destined to be a fresh brand.
“To me, the best accessory for men is a pocket!”
Guillaume Henry on men’s accessories
What do you think about Asian designers and designing for Asian customers?
I think they’re really creative, and I can believe in it because Asian customers themselves are creative as well. They are fun with the way they dress, it’s very inspiring. Being here is a way to see fantasy.
Did you have a chance to see the men’s streetwear style here in Shanghai?
Not yet really, frankly. But I definitely will stay one more day to get the atmosphere, I really want to. It’s very important to see how people are dressed from one country compared to another.
What do you think about the market in China right now?
It’s impressive, it means a lot for us. I see us as a French brand that’s traveling and the response is fantastic and China is a huge challenge. Because if you exist in China, it means as a fashion brand that you really exist in the fashion business.
Can you tell us a little about your work with Givenchy and Riccardo Tisci?
Oh, it was such as long time ago. I used to work there six years ago and you know how it is with fashion. One year is like five years, so it’s like I worked there almost 50 years ago. So I have nothing really much to say about it. It was a fantastic experience, I loved it.
Since you joined as head designer at Carven, what are you more into – the fabric or the cutting?
Both. The cutting, the fabric, colors, and silhouette – every single detail is important.
How did you bring something new and innovative?
I have no distance with my own work. I just do what I know so I don’t know if I brought something new. I hope at least that I’ve brought something honest to myself, the brand, and the customers. Honest to the age.
Any last words about your time in Shanghai?
It’s great because I was in Paris about five days ago where it was all grey, and now I’m in a city where I can stay outside!
“I think they’re really creative, and I can believe in it because Asian customers themselves are creative as well.”
Guillaume Henry speaks about Asian designers