Madame Carven was a couturier in the middle part of the last century whose contribution to the craft was her sporty, woman-friendly approach (she was apparently the first to do haute couture outfits for tennis and skiing). Guillaume Henry has revived the brand for today, retaining the founder's sensibility but producing it at wallet-friendly prices.
Spring 2011 is just the third season in the label's new incarnation, and already it's sold everywhere from stalwart Paris department stores to edgy boutiques. That has something to do with the clever, versatile way Henry builds the collection, cutting a simple sleeveless shift, say, in a black and white landscape print and offering it with a removable shirt collar in contrasting point d'esprit. Without the collar, it's destined for Printemps or Galeries Lafayette; with it, Opening Ceremony or Dover Street Market. Similarly, the deeply cutaway bodice of a full-skirted navy and black cocktail dress revealed a camel cashmere bra. You could just as easily wear it with a favorite button-down.
"Bourgeois, but with a nasty side" is how the designer described the collection's vibe, which explains the presence of the cutouts that are quickly becoming a key theme on this season's runways. Here, they turned up on the back of a shirtdress made from squares of printed silk scarves, as well as on ruched body dresses made from T-shirt jersey. With a retail price of about €200 on those, Henry is about to make plenty more friends.