Prolific designer Karl Lagerfeld’s tragic passing this week left the world wondering who would replace him in the highly-coveted position of Creative Director at Chanel, a position which he held for the last 36 years. As so many see him almost as an extension of the brand itself, he certainly has super chic shoes to fill.
According to a statement from Chanel, the brand has appointed their Fashion Creation Studio Director Virginie Viard to head artistic direction. The statement speaks of her as Karl’s "closest collaborator for more than 30 years" and that she will now be entrusted with "the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on".
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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.
Who is Virginie Viard?
The late German designer is known to have described her as his "right hand and left hand", and also affirmed, "There’s no need for us to speak to understand each other: we feel the same things at the same time". In Netflix's Chanel documentary 7 Days Out, he called her, 'The most important person, not only for me, but also for the atelier, for everything."
Her relationship with Karl spans three decades; after various stints as a costume designer for film and theatre, including as costume production assistant to Dominique Borg, Viard joined Chanel as an intern for the haute couture embroidery department in 1987. Karl himself had only recently joined the fashion house and she remained by his side during his time as Chloé’s creative director, from 1992 to 1997.
After later returning to Chanel, she was appointed Fashion Creation Studio Director and coordinated haute couture collections before moving to prêt-à-porter.
Getty Images Bertrand Rindoff Petroff
Despite being one to avoid the limelight, she did step into the public eye in October at the Grand Palais, accompanying Karl onstage at the end of Chanel’s spring/summer 2019 show. She actually took his place at Chanel’s 2019 Haute Couture show in January, standing beside model Vittoria Ceretti, when the house said in a statement that he was "too tired" to appear for his routine bow at the show’s close.
The decision to have her appear on his behalf hinted even then at his feelings about who would best uphold his legacy and left the fashion world curious whether this was foreshadowing of his imminent step down from Chanel.
Getty Images Estrop
Although quietly operating on the periphery, Viard has spent years in the upper echelons of the fashion community which owes much of the vision and success of Chanel to her, as well as Lagerfeld himself. As Director of Chanel’s Fashion Creation Studio, she is tasked with bringing Karl’s sketches to life and translating his creative vision into reality, making Viard, his close confidant, a very natural choice for the Creative Director role.
Speaking to Madame Figaro in 2011, Viard declared, "Every day, heading for 29 rue Cambon, I find at least 3000 good reasons to come to work, the first of those being to execute everything in order to please Karl", but admitting that despite his decisiveness, "When I have something to say…I say it!"
Getty Images Pascal Le Segretain
Karl always credited the importance of maintaining Coco Chanel’s vision when creating collections and Viard is likely to carry on that legacy. In 2017, when asked by Madame Figaro what it means to be a Chanel girl, Viard declared, "Since I’ve always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else!" She then elaborated, "You’re connected to two people, to Karl and to Gabrielle Chanel. It’s as though she weren’t dead. In any case, that’s my way of working."
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