Pascal Millet

When Pascal Millet took over as artistic director of Carven in 2001, he was joining one of the pioneers of French haute couture. Founded by Carmen de Tommaso in Paris in 1945, Carven had a youthful chic that heralded the dawn of the palmy days of the economic miracle. Today Carven is still a brand with a global reputation, selling fashions, accessories, perfumes and furniture, while its haute couture range has a small but devoted international clientele.

Carmen de Tommaso was born in Châtellerault in France in 1909. She studied architecture and interior design at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and went into fashion, it is said, out of self-interest – being petite and only five foot one (1.55 m), she rarely found elegant clothes to suit her in the boutiques. The problem gave rise to a business idea. Her fresh, slender creations elongated the figure and constituted an everyday alternative to Christian Dior’s New Look, which brought back the sumptuous gowns of the opulent fashions of pre-war years. Madame Carven’s masterpiece was Ma Griffe, a green and white striped summer frock that proved a worldwide success. Soon she was dressing not only the ladies of the Paris salons but also Edith Piaf and an Egyptian princess. She was one of the first to present her collections in other countries, and her trips to Brazil, Portugal, Egypt or Iran were soon reflected in her fashions, in ethnic designs, batik patterns and Oriental fabrics. She was particularly successful in Japan, where petite Japanese women gratefully adopted her coquette style. The cos­mo­politan fashion designer was soon known as “the smallest of the great couturiers.”

In the 1960s and 1970s Carven introduced, among other things, menswear and jewellery ranges, and designed uniforms for Air France stewardesses. In the early 1990s, Carmen de Tommaso retired from the business, and a succession of designers took over at the helm of the haute couture line. Madame Carven returned to the limelight briefly aged eighty-nine when she travelled to Bangkok for celebrations involving a retrospective show of her life’s work. In 1998 the business was sold to the Daniel Harlant group, who appointed Pascal Millet artistic director, with a brief to rejuvenate and expand the brand.

Millet studied at the Écoles de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, working subsequently for Balenciaga and Givenchy. Despite initial difficulties (in 2005 Harlant sold the brand to French leather goods group Arco), in the new millennium Millet succeeded in regenerating the long estab­lished salon stylistically as well. His haute couture collections, which have featured opulent fur jackets, cashmere coats and richly decorated dresses, bear witness to luxury, an eye for detail and an exuberance of ideas, displaying a new self-confidence along with an appropriate nod in the direction of the founder. She is always there in the front row at every show, applauding.

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