French fashion house
Founded: Established by Mme. Carven Mallet in Paris, 1945; Company History: Launched Carven Scarves and Carven Junior lines, 1955; introduced Kinglenes and Kisslenes sweater collections, 1956; neckwear collection, 1957; swimwear, 1965; furs, 1966; jewelry, Ma Fille children's line, and blouse collection, 1968; opened Monsieur Carven boutique, Paris, 1985; also designed uniforms for Air India, SAS, Aerolineas Argentinas, and Air France; merged divisions in reorganization, 1995; hired Angelo Tarlazzi as artistic director, 1995; purchased by French perfume company Daniel Harlant, 1998; Edward Achour named artistic director and designer, 1998. Fragrances include Ma Griffe, 1948, Robe d'un Soir, 1948, Chasse Gardée, 1950, Vetiver, 1957, Vert et Blanc, 1958, Madame, 1980, Guirlandes, 1982, Carven Homme, 1990, and Variations, 2001. Exhibitions: The Grog-Carven Collection, consisting of cabinetry, Dutch and Flemish paintings, and other artwork collected by Madame Carven and her late husband, René Grog, on permanent display at the
Perkins, Alice K., Paris Couturiers and Milliners, New York, 1949.
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Aillaud, Charlotte, "Madame Carven: Eighteenth Century Splendor in Her Avenue Foch House," in Architectural Digest, September 1989.
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In 1949 when Jacqueline François sang of "Les robes de chez Carven" in her immortal song "Mademoiselle de Paris," the clothes of Madame Carven embodied all the charm, gaiety, and beauty of the city of Paris and its fabled women in the magical period after the war. The 1950s are seen as the golden age of the haute couture in Paris, and Carven is regarded as having been one of its primary practitioners. She is still designing, and although Carven's vast array of licensed products, from perfume to golfwear, have been distributed throughout the world, her name is not immediately recognized in America. Perhaps this is because she has never sought to shock or create trends or to follow the whims of fashion.
The single conceptual basis for Carven's work has always been to create beautiful clothes for all women, but in particular women of petite size: "I felt that I was small, and the contemporary taste for tall mannequins combined with my own admiration for Hollywood stars ended up giving me a complex. At the age of 25 I was a coquette . France was learning to dance again after the war and I wanted to be slinky. This desire to be attractive inspired a few reflections. First I noticed that I wasn't the only petite woman I knew, and that the grand couturiers weren't very interested in us. But I had a feeling for proportion and volume. All that remained for me to do was to create, with the help of friends who were scarcely taller than I was, dresses that would allow us to be ourselves. I'd found an opening where there was no competition and a moment when Paris was overflowing with happiness."
Carven's designs from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, while conforming to the prevailing stylistic tendencies of the period, are distinguished by the delicate decorative detail that flatters the wearer without overwhelming her. Trims at collar and cuff are frequently executed in all variations of white lace and embroidery. Occasionally, coolly plain white linen collar and cuffs assert the propriety of the wearer while enhancing an image of chic self-assurance. White on white is a recurring theme in Carven's designs, as evident in an evening dress of 1950 in which an embroidery of white fleurs de Mai completely covers a white bustier and asymmetrical long skirt, supported by a white halter and pleated underskirt. A bouffant-skirted afternoon dress with a closely fitted top from 1954 is executed in white linen subtly embroidered with white flowers, almost as if the dress were created from a fine tablecloth. Another recurring design motif is the use of fabrics and embroideries which shade from light to dark, subtly enhancing the wearer's figure and stature.
Carven was one of the first designers to promote her clothes in foreign countries, presenting her collections in Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. These travels greatly influenced her designs. After a trip to Egypt, she introduced a tightly-gathered type of drapery to her evening designs mimicking ancient Egyptian gowns—a 1952 design shows a bodice of sinuous gathers closely outlining the body in white jersey that, under beaded fringe at the hip reminiscent of a belly dancer's jeweled belt, breaks loose into a long flowing skirt. Another dress of 1952 is covered with an all-over design of Aztec-inspired motifs. An entire collection in 1959 was inspired by the beauties of Spain, as seen in paintings by Velazquez.
Today the Carven label can be found throughout the world as a result of extensive distribution of licensed products and especially Carven's perfume Ma Griffe, in its familiar white and green packaging. Madame Carven always includes a signature white and green dress in her collections, which, to this day, stand for a tasteful style of charm and beauty that complements the wearer no matter her proportions.
The late 1990s were a period of change for the House of Carven. In 1995 the company was reorganized, with the perfume, couture and accessories divisions merged and Angelo Tarlazzi taking over as artistic director of couture. three years later, in 1998, the Daniel Harlant Group, a French perfume firm, acquired Carven, whose financial performance was marred by a large amount of debt. Although Harlant was thought to be mainly interested in Carven's fragrance line, it focused on the house's couture activities as well, hiring Edward Achour as artistic director the same year it purchased the company. The Harlant Group also expanded Carven's licensing activity, signing a large ready-to-wear partner almost immediately. Carven is operate independently from the Harlant Group's other businesses.
Achour has emphasized the house's reputation for luxury, utilizing fabrics such as organza, lambskin, and silk to create sumptuous collections. As the website La Mode Française described it, his summer 2000 collection featured everything from sequined bikinis to a long skirt, complete with train, paired with a bra top. The collection's color palette was typically broad, focusing on Mediterranean shades from periwinkle to coral and every soft pastel shade in between.
Carven has attempted to reverse its somewhat conservative image in the fragrance category, the area for which the company is probably best known on a global basis, especially in North America. Company executives told Women's Wear Daily in December 2000 that the perfume division hoped to emulate the changes that had occurred since Achour had taken over in couture. His creations appeal to a younger consumer than Carven has historically attracted. The fragrance division began to reposition itself in the late 1990s, introducing the men's fragrance Carven Homme to target male consumers in their 30s, an unfilled niche for the house. A new women's scent, Variations, launched in 2001, was aimed at the same age bracket among females.
In terms of marketing, Carven has long supported its image by sponsoring events appealing to its upscale clientéle, including book fairs, horse races, and sailing and golf competitions. It continues this tradition today and also gives back to the fashion industry by offering grants to assist young designers just getting started.
Even without the active participation of Madame Carven since the mid-1990s, Carven maintains its haute couture image around the world. This profile is not only furthered by its seasonal collections but, perhaps even more, by a wide range of licensed luxury products, including leather goods, fragrances, jewelry, watches, pens, cognac and champagne, carpets, porcelain, furniture, corporate gifts, and uniforms. All told, more than 60 licensees market Carven branded products worldwide.
updated by KarenRaugust