Recently re-launched French brand Carven exemplifies those fashion brands predicated on offering a value proposition based on excellence. As of late, Carven has been taking up more than its fair share of column inches. Originally founded in 1945, the then-waning ex-couture house was acquired in 2008 by businessmen Henri Sebaoun and Marc Sztykman, with the backing of Paris-based private equity firm Turenne Capital. Together, they set in motion what can only be lauded as an extremely successful re-brand. Designer Guillaume Henri, previously at Paul Ka and Givenchy, was hired and charged with the task of revitalizing the label. Within three short seasons, Carven’s fresh, easy, insouciant aesthetic has become the talk of the town.
It is Carven’s contemporary price positioning and very democratic approach to fashion that has made the style world bolt upright and take notice. In fact, what Carven offers is designed specifically to sit within the affordable price-point range – with skirts around $350 and tailored jackets around $900.
Though Carven’s price point is by no means unique, what cause the brand to stand out is how it has managed to retain a first-line standing and a second-line ticket price. Brands such as Marc by Marc Jacobs and See by Chloe have been creating affordable and seemingly successfully secondary lines for several years. However, neither escapes the “little sister” labelling and consequently suffers the inevitable juxtaposition against the first line – that “it’s not quite the real deal” feeling.
Some brands do escape this issue. Miu Miu is unique in that it is perhaps the only “little sister” brand of note that has avoided the unflattering comparison with its “big sister” – in this case, Prada. However, even brands that seem to do well in this arena have begun to lose faith in the multi-line approach. In April, Dolce & Gabbana announced a change in strategy in regards to their D&G diffusion line, and it is now due to be completely discontinued by 2012. While the news left many aghast given the line’s extraordinary fame, the move seems to be consistent with a new-found realization by luxury brands that they are irking consumers with endless tiers of sub-brands.
By contrast, Carven identifies itself as “affordable couture” and its designer is quick to point out that while the aesthetic remains deeply rooted in the brands 1950’s couture archives, the costing is keenly respectful of the modern consumer’s purse. The correct formula, according to Mr Henri, is to follow a guiding principle of subtraction, rather than addition. In so doing, he is able to avoid putting in zippers, or replacing a silk lining with a polyester one – thus arriving at a $350 “couture” skirt.
Carven’s winning combination has done very well – currently the brand is stocked in 50 countries across 400 independent boutiques and department stores worldwide – and growth has been happening at a double-digit rate.
Sabaoun suggests that the brand’s strength has been in really responding to shoppers’ expectations.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed that several studies indicate that post-recession, wealthy Americans have emerged as very different luxury consumers than in the past. Compared even to last year, the new luxury customer is more cautious and less trusting, more likely to wait for items to go on sale and generally buying less expensive brands than before.
It has been suggested that perhaps the infamous department store designer price-slash of 2008-2009 is to blame – which, in retrospect, highlighted to consumers the considerable mark-ups applied on traditional luxury fashion and accessories.
Nonetheless, the resulting consumer environment makes fertile ground for brands such as Carven, solidly focused on offering a value-proposition based on excellence. In the US, Carven has been very well received. While it is not yet possible to quantify this success, judging from the whirlwind trunk-show tour across Barneys locations nation-wide, it is evident that cornering the American market is important to the French brand.
From a fashion business perspective, Carven’s quick progress requires pause and consideration. Last Wednesday, speaking at the Reuters Luxury Summit in Paris, Mr Sebaoun suggested this staggering growth spurt might mean contemplating the potential IPO or bringing in external investment in a little over a year. The next day, the exclusive Chambre Syndacale de la Mode announced Carven among its newest members, which to date accounts for an elite selection of a hundred or so fashion brands.
Back in the spring of last year, Net-A-Porter held a dinner to introduce Carven to London. The e-tailer’s founder Natalie Massanet gushed about the brand, predicting, “These clothes are going to change your lives.” Certainly, it seems this brand is already changing the fashion game.
Author: Ceci Guicciardi
Copy Editor: Gina Conforti
Photo credits: Carven SS 2011, MyDDNetwork.com