Interview: Guillaume Henry

©Portrait: Alasdair McLellan / Installation: ©Ana Santl

Guillaume Henry did an installation with Andreas Murkudis during the Art Week Berlin. We met Nina Ricci’s designer for an interview

Guillaume Henry likes it subtle. Notwithstanding his penchant for modesty, his list of achievements reads like a fashion fairy tale. After graduating from the prestigious Institut Français de la Mode, he first made a name for himself at Givenchy, where he worked as part of the design team under Riccardo Tisci. In 2009, after a quick pit stop at Paula Ka, Henry migrated to Carven. Nothing short of a revolutionary, he turned the antiquated couture house into fashion’s brand du jour — heralding a new era, that could be described as a downright Carven mania.

Ever since his appointment as creative director of Nina Ricci in January 2015 , he’s been giving yet another maison a timely makeover, by breathing new life into a drowsing brand identity. His new collection at Ricci goes by the title “La Femme Amoureuse” (“The Woman in Love”). A well known theme that brings to mind the age-old cliché of the female lover as some kind of helpless dame in a rapture of love.

Naturally, Henry doesn’t buy into such stereotypes. His vision of the enamoured woman is inherently different: like most of his muses, L’Amoureuse is a confident, independent woman, playful and sexy, but totally aware, and in control of her charms. The women he envisions to dress are as infatuated with themselves, as with the world around them.

And that is something you can tell, just by looking at his latest coup. Last Saturday, the new collection was presented at the premises of Andreas Murkudis’s concept store, as a collaboration on occasion of the Berlin Art Week. The scenery was exquisite. An installation of dresses, trench coats, belts and bags; draped on extravagant mannequins and arranged atop of mirrored cuboids and a neon green table top. Glossy shades of black, gleaming green sequins and deep red tones embellished the aisles — the bright colours in perfect contrast with the store’s signature furniture item: a velvet sofa dipped in azure blue.

By juxtaposing ultra-feminine garments with classic menswear elements, Henry uncovers the underlying ambivalence of both love and womanhood. After all, fashion is a matter of the heart. And like only few others, Guillaume Henry possesses a willingness to translate that feeling into his craft.

We asked the designer about the current collection and its exceptional presentation, his take on modern women and the artists that inspired his aesthetic vision!

This year Berlin Art Week took place for the fifth time. How did your cooperation with Andreas Murkudis come about?

For this project we were lucky to be approached directly by Andreas Murkudis. I think it’s the first time in the history of Nina Ricci, for a collection to be presented in Berlin. And it is a great opportunity to do so during Berlin Art Week, especially since I myself, am very prone to the world of art.

Where did the idea to create this kind of installation stem from? And how do fashion and art intertwine in your opinion?

I don’t necessarily consider fashion as art, yet I think it’s where fashion takes part of its inspiration from. I am very prone to the emotion that triggers an artwork and for me fashion is an emotional affair. With the aid of this installation at Andreas Murkudis, I want to transfer the emotion that emanates from Nina Ricci.

Just like art works, your designs really speak to the senses, with delicate materials as silk and lace, velvet or fur. Does sensuality play a key role in your creative process?

Sensuality is a key word at Nina Ricci and it is true that the senses — the way we look, smell or touch a fabric — should co-exist in the Nina Ricci wardrobe, particularly when it comes to the choice of materials or the contrasts in silhouettes.

What fascinates you about the modern woman?

I don’t know what that is exactly, a modern woman. At the contrary, I am often inspired by icons of the past — real women, authentic, uncompromising, without any marketing. Romy Schneider for instance.

Your aesthetic vision at Carven provided a fresh modernity. It was quite subtle, but at the same time rooted in femininity. Would you consider this as your signature style, since we can find it again at Nina Ricci?

I am probably the worst person to talk to about my signature. However, it is true that I try to be honest with myself in everything I do. I don’t chase after a specific idea of modernity but I constantly try to reawaken my senses, so I am looking for novelties every season. The narrative element as well as a certain intimacy of the clothing have always been systematic in my work.

The Lily bag — one of my favourites from the collection — was said to be inspired by Louis Malle’s “Black Moon”. Is that true?

No, I have never seen the film, however I love the filmmaker! The name of the film’s main character may be Lily… but first and foremost, the bag was about the expression of a flower; a little bouch, just like a bouquet to wear with a man’s coat.

And last but not least: Do you have a favourite artist who influenced your aesthetic vision?

Many filmmakers. Sautet or Fassbinder instantly come to mind, to only name a few. Yet also photographers like Brassaï or Diane Arbus as well as everyday things. People in the street fascinate me.

After spending a gap year in Paris, Jessica Aimufua set her heart on Berlin, starting her art history and cultural studies undergrad in 2012. As a keen observer and critical thinker she developed an urge to express herself inventively at an early age. In both English and German she writes about contemporary culture and modern aesthetics, with a focus on film, fashion and art . At hey woman! she writes, edits and translates.