Virginie Viard, emerging from Karl Lagerfeld’s shadow to head Chanel

Agence France-Presse
Virginie Viard, emerging from Karl Lagerfeld’s shadow to head Chanel


From being the 'right and left hand,' Viard takes on the challenge of heading Chanel after Lagerfeld's death

PARIS, France – Virginie Viard, who was the late Karl Lagerfeld’s “right and left hand” for more than 30 years, is stepping out from the legendary designer’s formidable shadow to take over as Chanel’s creative director.

Chanel announced Viard’s nomination “so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on” at the same time as it confirmed Lagerfeld‘s death on Tuesday, February 19, aged 85. (READ: Karl Lagerfeld, fashion’s quick-witted king)

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It is with deep sadness that the House of CHANEL announces the passing of Karl Lagerfeld, the Creative Director for the CHANEL Fashion House since 1983. An extraordinary creative individual, Karl Lagerfeld reinvented the brand’s codes created by Gabrielle Chanel: the CHANEL jacket and suit, the little black dress, the precious tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewelry. Regarding Gabrielle Chanel, he said, “My job is not to do what she did, but what she would have done. The good thing about Chanel is it is an idea you can adapt to many things.” A prolific creative mind with endless imagination, Karl Lagerfeld explored many artistic horizons, including photography and short films. The House of CHANEL benefited from his talent for all the branding campaigns related to Fashion since 1987. Finally, one cannot refer to Karl Lagerfeld without mentioning his innate sense of repartee and self-mockery. Alain Wertheimer, CEO of CHANEL, said: “Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of CHANEL’s success throughout the world. Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand.” Bruno Pavlovsky, President of Fashion at CHANEL, said: “Fashion show after fashion show, collection after collection, Karl Lagerfeld left his mark on the legend of Gabrielle Chanel and the history of the House of CHANEL. He steadfastly promoted the talent and expertise of CHANEL’s ateliers and Métiers d’Art, allowing this exceptional know-how to shine throughout the world. The greatest tribute we can pay today is to continue to follow the path he traced by – to quote Karl – ‘continuing to embrace the present and invent the future’.” Virginie Viard, Director of CHANEL’s Fashion Creation Studio and Karl Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, has been entrusted by Alain Wertheimer with the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on.

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The smoky-eyed designer who will take the spotlight after shunning it for decades was described by her mentor as “my right and left hand”.

He told Netflix’s 7 Days Out documentary series: “Virginie is the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything.”

Viard declines to reveal her age, as is common in the fashion world.

She joined Chanel as an intern in haute couture embroidery in 1987, 4 years after Lagerfeld took charge, after being recommended by a neighbor of her parents who was close to Monaco’s Prince Rainier.

“I imagine we are complementary,” Viard said of her relationship with Lagerfeld as Chanel’s head of studio. “I understand where he wants to take Chanel, but I can’t really explain it, it’s like that,” she told AFP in a 2015 interview.

“He doesn’t spend 3 hours on a dress. He sees right away if it works well or not.”

In November 2017, she told the London Telegraph that she tries “to please him, but I also like to surprise him.”

When Lagerfeld missed Chanel’s Paris haute couture show on January 22, with the brand saying he “was tired”, it was Viard who took a bow.

“Virginie Viard and Eric Pfrunder, Chanel’s director of image, will continue to work alongside him and follow up the collection and the brand’s publicity campaigns,” Chanel added at the time. 

That set off speculation that the man nicknamed “the Kaiser”, who has ruled over fashion for a large part of the past half century, may be about to step back.

At his last Paris show in October, Lagerfeld had gone out of his way to acknowledge Viard, one of the behind-the-scenes heroines at the luxury label, for her years of support.

Often seen wearing a jacket over slim black trousers, Viard says she likes “fashion that lasts… clothes that actually aren’t in style”.

It is an echo of the famous dictum of Coco Chanel:”Fashion changes, but style endures”, a fitting mantra for Viard in her new role.

Viard’s baptism of fire will come on March 5, when she unveils Chanel’s Autum-Winter 2019-2020 ready-to-wear collection in Paris. –

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