Chanel has announced that the late Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman, Virginie Viard, has been appointed as his successor. Viard is the first woman to hold the position since Gabrielle Chanel herself.
The fashion world was in mourning when Chanel announced the death of Karl Lagerfeld on 19 February. The German fashion designer had been at the helm of the French brand since 1983, and was subsequently as synonymous with the label as the camellia flower and the 2.55 quilted bag. Speculation as to who would replace him started almost immediately: would Phoebe Philo be drafted in, post Celine?
Not so. Chanel swiftly issued a statement confirming that Lagerfeld’s self-appointed successor, Virginie Viard, would assume the title immediately. Her appointment, announced prior to the runway show held in Paris just days after Lagerfeld’s passing, makes her the first female creative director since Gabrielle Chanel herself.
But despite having worked at Chanel with Lagerfeld for 30 years, little is known about her. It’s because unlike her predecessor, Viard shuns the spotlight. And while the Paris a/w 2019 show, staged amidst an Alpine ski resort, was Viard’s first as creative director, she didn’t emerge post-show to take a bow. In doing so, she allowed Lagerfeld – her longtime friend and boss – the honour and glory of one last collection.
Below, we’ve decoded everything you need to know about Chanel’s new star designer.
When did Virginie Viard start working at Chanel?
Viard was born in Lyon in 1962, to a family of silk makers. After studying theatre design in France, she got a job assisting the costume designer Dominique Borg.
Her journey into fashion was by a stroke of luck, or fate. The neighbour of her parents happened to be head of the household of Prince Rainer of Monoco - he recommended Viard and Lagerfeld, who had a house in Monaco at the time, decided to give her a chance. She began as an embroidery intern at Chanel in 1987.
What happened next?
Under Lagerfeld’s mentorship, Viard was quickly promoted to head of embroidery. After developing a close working relationship with Lagerfeld, she followed him to Chloe in 1992 (during his second stint as creative director for the brand, which he held simultaneously to his Chanel post), and then back to Chanel in 1997 after Lagerfeld departed Chloe.
Upon her return, she was appointed as coordinator of the Haute Couture collections, and in 2000, was given another promotion to become director of Chanel’s creation studio.
What was she responsible for as director of Chanel’s creation studio?
Viard was the connecting point between Lagerfeld and the Chanel ateliers – she coordinated the teams, working with the pattern cutters, fabric suppliers and seamstresses to translate Lagerfeld’s sketches into a three-dimensional garment. She then did fittings with Lagerfeld on every outfit and organised the necessary changes.
What was Viard’s relationship with Lagerfeld like?
Lagerfeld regularly referred to Viard as his “right hand, and his left hand” – he the master of ideas and creation, she the one to bring it to life in the real world. He would WhatsApp her sketches and they saw each other every day. Together, they created 10 collections a year for Chanel, resulting in a unique and longstanding working relationship and friendship.
Lagerfeld entrusted Viard with the production of every collection – it’s natural he trusted her to take over the reigns upon his departure, and at the end of the Chanel couture show in January, when Lagerfeld was said to be too tired to attend, it was Viard who took the bow.
What happens now?
The Chanel s/s 2020 show, which will be held in September, will be a test of things to come under Viard. Translating someone else’s sketches and being responsible for sketching the collections are two very different tasks – and her star will need to continue to shine long after Lagerfeld’s vision wanes.
Nevertheless, knowing the brand inside out will undoubtedly stand her in good stead. Viard, then, is as uniquely positioned to take Chanel into the next era as Alessandro Michele was at Gucci (Michele worked at the brand for 12 years before being given the top job).
Promoting a star within the ranks often pays off – here’s hoping Viard is up to the challenge.
Images: Getty Images