What Women Really Want
Nina Ricci’s creative director has an eye for elegance. Guillaume Henry tells Melissa Twigg about his plans to shake up the French fashion house
After reviving the French house of Carven in just five years, Guillaume Henry has been tasked with bringing a fresh identity to the heritage brand Nina Ricci arven was a girl; Nina Ricci is a woman. And I think I’m a man now, which maybe I wasn’t five years ago.” So says 37-year-old Guillaume Henry about his departure from the niche ex-couture house for the renowned French fashion brand Nina Ricci, where he became creative director in 2014. “I look at myself and my [Carven] colleagues five years ago—we were like kids. But because of the professional experiences we’ve had, we’ve all changed so much.”
If Henry was immature, he was pretty talented with it. Over the Paris native’s five years at Carven, he transformed the dated couture house into a sexy, contemporary brand that dressed French women (and anyone else who wanted to look French) in that louche cool-girl way that’s one part rock ’n’ roll, one part high fashion. So it was no surprise that when Peter Copping left Nina Ricci in late 2014, the ailing brand immediately poached the hot young designer (who had previously worked at Givenchy and Paule Ka) in the hope that he would inject some of that youthful daring and glamour into Nina Ricci— and bring with him his illustrious client list, which included Beyoncé, Rihanna, Isabelle Huppert, Kristin Scott Thomas and Inès de la Fressange.
It was with bated breath that the fashion pack awaited his first collection in March 2015. Sophisticated and feminine, it didn’t disappoint, offering well-cut coats and flattering dresses that were mature enough to please the traditional Nina Ricci customer, alongside fringed jackets and sequined suits that promised to bring in a new, younger clientele.
“Ooh la la, your first collection is always very stressful,” says Henry in his light French accent over coffee at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. “You need to express your own vision but also be faithful to the aesthetic of the brand. For Nina Ricci, I wanted it to be delicate and sophisticated, but not to push any one look too far. For the second season, I knew I had more liberty to express my feelings. One issue was that I don’t like girliness—and Nina Ricci is famous for being a very feminine brand. But then I thought about it and I realised that I have never believed that femininity is about sweetness or pink or being cute. In fact, I believe thinking like that is an insult to strong women with unique style. Femininity can come in many forms, but ultimately it’s just a celebration of being female.”
Inspired by his muse, the late German actress Romy Schneider, Henry’s spring/summer 2016 collection is undoubtedly glamorous, but in a very grown-up way. Critics have called it sensual, sinful and quintessentially French. Texture is the word on everyone’s lips, with short, almost bondage-like patent leather dresses, airy sheer blouses, glossy ostrich leather skirts and feathered satin dresses—the kinds of clothes that make you want to go out and have a martini at the Hemingway Bar in Paris.
“For me, the label is about elegance, which means it can also be a little tough,” says Henry. “It’s an expression of beauty but also vulnerability, and strong but not aggressive. It’s important to have just the right mixture of good and bad. Isn’t that what women are always looking for?”
all grown up