Henri Sebaoun: "Carven isn’t a luxury brand"
Henri Sebaoun, president of Carven, spoke with FashonMag about the French label’s path to its special position in the fashion world, following a busy period of new store openings.
FashionMag: Where do you stand in achieving Carven’s business plan?
Henri Sebaoun: We don’t have a step-by-step business plan. We set ourselves the goal of remaking the label as a fashion influence. In a sense, that’s happening today, with Guillaume (note: Guillaume Henry, the group’s artistic director). Now, we’re establishing a model for the business.
FM: You’ve opened quite a few stores recently. How many do you have today?
HS: Today we have more than 25 stores under our own name. Seven are our own branches, four in Paris, one in Cannes, another in New York, and one in London. The other stores are operated in partnerships, with a strong presence in Asia. For example, we have four in Hong Kong, three in Taiwan, one in Tokyo, and one each in Singapore, Jakarta and Manila. We also have 4 stores in China and one in Qatar. We are going to open two stores in Beijing. And to all that, you have to add our eight shop-in-shops in Japan, four in South Korea, and three in Paris. We’re also going to open one in Russia this July.
FM: Is Carven a global brand, given its presence nearly everywhere?
HS: Since the start of our time at Carven, France has never accounted for more than 20% of our business, although it is our major market, ahead of Japan and the United States. We have also seen, obviously, that Asia appreciates our style.
FM: You have a powerful partner in that part of the world…
HS: Yes, indeed, we have the Bluebell group as our distributor – it handles a number of important brands in the region. On mainland China, we are even in a joint venture.
FM: And on the wholesale side? How many multi-brand clients do you have worldwide?
HS: We have about 600 multi-brand resellers, with 90 of them in France.
FM: How do you explain the enthusiastic interest in Carven?
HS: Our market positioning fits in with the demands of today’s clients. Carven isn’t a luxury brand. In the United States, people talk about contemporary designers, except that the American brands that are our counterparts are more casual. And yet, the large American department stores devote more of their floor space to contemporary brands. We put an emphasis on creativity, but unlike some designers we aren’t looking to be out of reach. Instead, we insist on affordable pricing, with dresses around 350 euros. The Carven style is imaginative, playful. And then, you need to be careful about how the word “luxury” is used. It’s tossed around almost meaninglessly these days. Clearly, the great luxury fashion houses are well aware of this misuse of the term, since they are all launching lines that are even more up-market, even more luxurious.
FM: Well, then, which market segment do you feel most comfortable in?
HS: Carven appeals to a wide range of people. In a certain sense, the brand is cross-generational. Luxury clients look to us. In the United States and Japan we also have a younger clientele than in Europe. But I think that’s mostly a question of their resources. We also recognize that there is an interest in creativity that varies by segment. But that too helps us to exist in the fashion world.
FM: Guillaume Henry’s work is clearly appreciated in fashion circles. I imagine that must be gratifying to you and your team.
HS: Naturally, that is an important point, and even more so since it was something we really wanted. It came about through the runway shows. Of course, in a certain sense, that path can also block our development. Some consumers could think that we aren’t for them, that we will be too expensive, etc. That is in fact the very reason we choose to locate our stores on streets that aren’t known as luxury-boutique avenues. Saint-Sulpice in Paris, for example, suits us very well. We have to make an effort so that those customers we think we can attract aren’t afraid to push open the doors into our stores. To do that, for example, we just redesigned our internet site with the Mazarine agency. We want to keep in contact with young people, to use social media, to let everyone know what we’re doing. We’ll also be implementing the concept through our choices for our next campaigns – it’s our goal for this year. That all justifies slowing down our openings, and all the more so since at the moment we’re experiencing double-digit growth in our business. So as far as that’s concerned, maybe we can indeed talk about a new step!
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