After the sad announcement of the death of Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s iconic Creative Director, the acclaimed fashion house has announced his successor. Lagerfeld’s work at the luxury fashion mega house will be carried on by Virginie Viard, his long-time fashion associate.
In a statement published on Chanel.com on Tuesday morning, the house announced the sad death of the world’s most iconic, and undoubtedly the most prolific fashion designer. Lagerfeld, who started his 36-year tenure at Chanel in 1983 had influenced many established and up-and-coming designers and models with his work, which started when he was an assistant to Pierre Balmain in 1955. Whilst leading Chanel and its many impressive fashion shows that take place every year at the Grand Palais in Paris, Lagerfeld also held long-term design positions at the Italian house Fendi and the French house Chloé and established his own eponymous brand.
Yet, within hours of the announcement, the mourning fashion world had focused on the elephant in the room; who would succeed Lagerfeld in leading one of the world’s most influential designer brands? It is undeniable that Chanel is a huge brand. In 2017, the fashion brand revealed its profits for the first time in the brand’s history: a whopping $1.79bn on sales of almost $10bn, according to the BBC. Therefore, it would make sense that the brand’s CEO, Alain Wertheimer, was eager to employ someone who truly understands the vision of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, and will be able to lead the brand into the future, whilst maintaining the historic principles of the establishment.
Alain Wertheimer, Chanel chief executive officer, has given the job of continuing the creative work for Chanel’s collections, to Virginie Viard, who was described in Chanel’s statement as ‘Karl Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years’. In the same statement, it was detailed that the new Chanel creative director had been selected to ensure “that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on”.
Viard was most recently recognised in the SS19 Chanel show in January when Lagerfeld couldn’t be in attendance – for the first time in his leadership – due to ‘feeling tired’. However, whilst she has only stepped into the limelight most recently, it’s clear that Viard has been a part of the creative processes at Chanel for a long time. Therefore it appears to be the best step for Chanel to take for maintaining the brand and ensuring that the leadership across the trans-national corporation is smooth and successful. She started as an intern at Chanel in 1987 and left the brand with Lagerfeld to join Chloé in 1992, where the pair worked together for five years. When Lagerfeld returned to the French fashion house in 1997, she took on the role of coordinator for haute couture and then ready-to-wear in 2000.
In a 2011 interview with the French magazine Crash, Viard, who is now in her 50s, mentioned that working in fashion had not always been her goal. The designer had originally wanted to “make theatre costumes”. She said that she “started in costume production as an assistant to Dominique Borg, who notably produced costumes for Camille Claudel”, following this she was a costume designer for a variety of French films and plays before she met Lagerfeld, who suggested that she worked at Chanel. It’s clear that whilst Viard has always worked within the realms of fashion, she has also made impressive moves within the film industry — working with French actresses and directors like Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Nuytten, as she described in her interview with Crash. It will be particularly interesting to see whether any of her cinematic influence shines through in her future collections for Chanel.
Whilst Lagerfeld famously never had a romantic companion – other than Choupette – after his youthful love Jacques de Bascher died of AIDS in 1989, Virginie Viard lives in Paris with her partner, Jean-Marc Fyot, a composer and music producer. It will certainly be interesting to see whether Viard incorporates any of the musical influences of her partner in her new work, or whether there will be a greater reflection of the image of a family woman in her vision for the luxury company in comparison to the Chanel of Karl Lagerfeld.
It has also been rumoured that Viard was more ‘hands-on’ than Karl in her work at Chanel. The late Creative Director produced a wide and expansive range of ideas, whilst it was his right-hand woman, Virginie, who translated Lagerfeld’s vision to runway reality. According to some insiders, she spent time with suppliers and assessed what new or archival techniques best corresponded to Lagerfeld’s ideas. Apparently, her involvement extended to approving the model casting and inspecting each detail backstage. Perhaps the new Creative Director’s expansive experience will provide something new in the projects to come; a greater sense of structural understanding, perhaps?
Whilst the passing of Lagerfeld remains heavy in our hearts, Viard seems to be a suitable replacement for the leader of the fashion house. Working closely with Lagerfeld, she understands the brand and the customers that it appeals to. While it’s expected that she will add her own influences in her new Chanel collections, she will maintain the Parisian charm that millions love about the house. When asked by a journalist what makes a “Chanel girl,” she replied, “As I have always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else.” I’m sure we can say that we won’t be seeing any more brand upheaval as we did with Hedi Slimane’s rebranding of Celine, last year. I think Virginie Viard will lead Chanel forward with grace and respect, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.