Guillaume Henry is in his very early 30s but looks like he’s 19. Maybe it’s his Howdy Doody hair and cuffed jeans. Or the fact that he has managed to turn Carven from a dusty old couture house into a fashion-pop sensation. Henry, who cut his teeth at Givenchy and Paule Ka, has resurrected the 66-year-old brand in just three seasons. And he has done it by giving cocktail-elegant clothes a fresh, techedged sport vibe—the kind of clothes Audrey Hepburn would wear if she were 20 and heading out to a party. ELLE chatted with the Paris-based creative director about his inspirations, design secrets and down-to-earth outlook.

What inspired this collection?
“Marble statues—and I also had it in my head that this collection was about a girl studying literature at university who vicariously travels the world through the books she’s reading, like Jules Verne’s novels. That’s why there’s a Stromboli volcano print on the bubble skirt and a print of an old treasure map on a dress.”

Your clothes are structured and elegant but also young and sporty. How do you do it?
“I think about the way my friends dress. My generation thinks that being chic is not necessarily about wearing an evening dress—it’s also a great coat with a pair of jeans. When I think of a nice evening dress, I imagine it in cotton jersey or the kind of nylon used for K-Ways. I design a backpack to wear with it. The gown has got to have pockets. To me, the coolest evening dress is a man’s shirt. My friends and I like proper clothes, but we want to have fun with them.”

How did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
“I’ve been a fan of Christian Lacroix since I was a kid. I wanted to do what he does— mixing art, colour, sociology, what’s happening in the world. It’s very rich and wide-ranging. I wrote to Lacroix, and he was nice enough to respond and he gave me some advice.”

How did you end up as the creative director at Carven?
“The people who took over Carven wanted to do fashion that was accessible and stylish. Somebody told them about me, so they called me in and asked me what I thought about the house. I told them that I loved the brand. I loved how fresh it was, but I felt they had to stop doing haute couture.”

What was the atelier like when you got there?
“It was empty. But there was still the smell of perfume in the air. There was a lot of silk and velvet around, so we decided to clean it up, open the windows. There were three of us when we started. We had no shop, no clients. Now, we have 10 people on our team and 200 retailers.”

Why did your collection get so much attention right away?
“People look at our stuff, and they can imagine themselves wearing it. It’s affordable. It’s democratic. That’s why I mix a leather jacket with a stretch-cotton dress, because these are clothes for real girls.”

You have a down-to-earth philosophy.
“All my friends are about 30. People who are 30 don’t have a lot of money, but we don’t want to deprive ourselves of fashion either. We just want things that are affordable.”

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