Carven: the line between couture and prêt-à-porter

In 1945, Madame Marie-Louise Carven founded the French fashion house Carven to bring couture to women who shared her own diminutive proportions (she stood just over 5 feet), counting among her patrons Edith Piaf, the famous French chanteuse. In a world where couture was defined by towering models in opulent gowns, Mme Carven took a different approach: “I wanted to retain my style — sober, practical and young, with a lot of sports garments.”

Although Carven started out as a couture house, Mme Carven quickly joined the fast-growing prêt-à-porter movement, started by her contemporary Gabi Aghion of Chloé. It’s no wonder that during the era of fashion kings such as Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, the few women designers in the industry were rebelling against the waist-restricting, difficult-to-wear dresses of couture. Prêt-à-porter was, by definition, easier to wear, easier to move in, explicitly for worldly and working women.

“Designers [today] unfortunately think about making their mark on their design. I didn’t think of my designs like that. I thought about the young girls, the young women that I dressed, even my models, to show off their beauty to the maximum.” [WWD]

I love the darting and pockets of this Carven jacket from the 2012 pre-fall collection by Guillaume Henry. Worn here with my favorite Lanvin smoking slippers from several years ago.
While famous for its structured and often tomboyish silhouettes, Carven is no less whimsical for it. Simple, structured pieces feature exaggerated details that foreground its heritage. Take, for example, this beautiful jacket from the 2012 prefall collection by Guillaume Henry. The overstated darting gives an otherwise simple aviator jacket a mid-century couture look, while the outlined faux pockets add a touch of whimsy to the design.

This is something as evident in Carven’s clothing designs as its history. For instance, at the launch of her perfume, Mme Carven had an airplane drop bottles of the perfume with tiny parachutes over the City of Paris. Wrote the house of Carven, “The lingering scent of Ma Griffe floated everywhere: at the opera, at charity balls, at the most fashionable sports events from Deauville to Monte Carlo.”

Although this particular jacket is pictured here, it’s easy to find it secondhand on Vestiaire Collective in a variety of sizes.