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04/22/14 Carven C.E.O. Henri Sebaoun

Trailing the charmed expansion of the brand he purchased in 2008, Henri Sebaoun visited Manila last week to admire Carven’s first freestanding store in the Philippines. During his visit, a lunch was held at the store itself, where Sebaoun regaled a small gathering of press with stories of diving in local waters and the exuberant romantic life of Madame Carven. NOUS pulled the brand’s soft-spoken C.E.O. aside for a quick chat about his delicious last encounter with the brand’s namesake and what strikes us as a reasonable five-year plan for Carven.

What convinced you it was time to expand to the Philippines?

Mark [Gonzalez, owner of Homme et Femme] is a very good partner and he understands very early my brand. I think the collection is very right for this market, which understands and likes the spirit of girly-girls and younger men created by Guillaume [Henry, Carven's creative director]. I’m very happy to see the first shop in Manila and I hope we will have good success.

Before you took over Carven in 2008, what sort of relationship did you have with the brand? 

Before 2008, I was a licensee for Carven menswear for 14 years. The last owner, when they wanted to sell the brand, he asked me if I am interested and I was very interested because I had a vision for Carven. It was very creative and accessible—new for this moment. Right now, there are two directions: luxury and fast fashion and we made a new direction. We are very lucky because we found Guillaume in 2009 and the first collection came out in 2010. Just four years ago. Now, we have distributed in 16 countries around the world. Manila is the 37th shop.

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Why did you think Guillaume had the perfect aesthetic for Carven?  

I met many designers before Guillaume and all of them, I asked one question: What is the Carven spirit for you? All designers came with a sketch and just one arrived with many inspirations—music, pictures, and had a big picture of fashion and French culture. It was Guillaume.

Can you share any interesting encounters with Madame Carven?

I meet Madame Carven for the first time in 1997. The last time, it was after I bought Carven in 2008, around 2009. There was an event for her 100th birthday and Guillaume and I didn’t want to gift a new dress and the like. We asked Ladurée to make a new macaron instead. It was white inside and green outside, packed in a box with the classic Carven stripes. After the event, Madame Carven saw us and said, ‘Ah, you’re the new owner from Carven?’ ‘Yes, yes, Madame.’ ‘It’s you who sent me the macarons? It’s very good. Thank you.’ (Laughs)

Did she have any comments about the direction you’ve taken the brand she founded?

No. She said only that it’s very interesting. We don’t work with the past but are inspired by it. With Madame Carven, she always pushed new things. She traveled a lot and she added travel to her spirit, especially in the 1950s where she pioneered uniforms for female flight crews.

What are your plans for the next few years?

We want to continue to work with our partners in Asia. We opened the first freestanding in London last November. In December, the first freestanding in New York. I want to continue to open freestanding stores around the world. Five years ago, I saw that Carven was a very strong brand. It’s a work in progress.

Last year, you said no to an IPO for Carven and that you wanted to retain majority ownership. Is it because of your sentimentality for the brand?

It’s true. Carven is my baby. The second reason is that now, we are too small for this ambition for an IPO. We need to grow and prove that there are enough good activities and customers who like the brand. We are very lucky that in four years, we have many things going on and I want to continue that. Perhaps in five years, I can come back to the question of an IPO.

What are your favorite pieces from the current collection?  

In Ready to Wear, my favorite piece is this pink dress. This represents the spirit of Carven. This old fabric and finishing is very detailed, very couture. It’s very girly with a little sexiness thrown in (shows the cutout at the back). Very Carven.

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Carven CEO Sebaoun attends the Reuters Global Luxury and Fashion Summit in Paris