While Guillaume Henry has been breathing new life into Carven's womenswear, the men's line has been on hiatus since last December. Prior to that, the label had been quietly treading water in menswear, making office-friendly attire for the French middle class. The designer mentioned his businessman brother had been a big Carven customer. But times change, and after the bang-up, back-from-the-dead revival Henry has effected with the house's womenswear, the brand's owners have added a menswear relaunch to his purview, too. He's calling his Spring outing not collection 1, but collection 0. "It's just to get a feeling for the boy," he said modestly. The perspective he brings to it is fashion-savvy rather than business-casual—in other words, a change of course from what's come before. "I'm not sure if my brother will be in the collection anymore," he admitted with a laugh. Maybe not, but buyers are already buzzing.
The brother story is apt here. Womenswear designers venturing into men's often imagine designing for their female client's boyfriend or husband. Not Henry. "I was thinking of a family picture," he said at a showroom appointment, "of the brother of the Carven girl." The younger brother. Inspired by clothes worn in childhood, the collection had a schoolboyishness that Henry further played up with his styling. He featured pleated shorts and Peter Pan collars and even decked out looks with leather pocket protectors. There were instances where the child's-play theme went too far, as with a piqué cotton polo turned into a short all-in-one; best to leave that one in the hazy days of youth. But there was ease and chic in Japanese cotton suiting and straight-leg denim, chinos and cotton shirting (with contrast collars in grosgrain and mackintosh fabric). An added bonus can be found in Carven's prices: Jackets will retail for around €400, pants around €120.
As a first collection, this one suggested Henry has the chops to mix design and commercial considerations in fine balance. Some might argue that his men—well, boys, really—seem a bit too well behaved. (In one look, a sweater was knotted preppily around the shoulders of a rubberized leather Perfecto. The Not Very Wild One?) But that's the Carven way, these days. Henry, unlike many of his peers, is an unapologetic fan of good manners and good taste. That's a strength, not a weakness, and young vandals already have plenty of outfitters. Still, you can't help imagining how good Carven could be when little brother enters his rebel phase.