Between disruption and legacy: What will define Virginie Viard and Chanel's post-Karl Lagerfeld era?
The show must go on
In case you haven't heard, longtime Chanel stalwart Virginie Viard has been chosen to succeed the late Karl Lagerfeld at the storied French house. As with Alessandro Michele at Gucci and the duo of Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri chez Valentino, the internal appointment of Viard was likely to ensure stability at one of fashion's biggest businesses. Bearing a hefty heritage and lucrative fragrance, makeup and accessories lines — the brand posted USD9.62 billion in revenue in 2017 — Chanel can ill-afford a shakeup of a similar magnitude to Hedi Slimane's Celine revamp.
Although Gucci's Michele managed a complete DNA turnaround from the Frida Giannini-era, the twilight of Lagerfeld's Chanel tenure was the furthest thing from troubled; his reliably press-baiting runway sets, healthy roster of brand ambassadors and endlessly clever re-spinning of house signatures (bouclé tweed, camellias, pearls, lions, gripoix, two-tone shoes, and the list goes on) assured the brand's continued domination of French luxury's top tier. Much of this, it was widely reported within the industry, was down to Viard.
Viard, the granddaughter of silk manufacturers, started out in the world of costume design and worked on films starring continental megastars Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Adjani. She joined Chanel as an intern in 1987, and swiftly established herself as one of Lagerfeld's most trusted collaborators — he even moved her to Chloé to assist with his takeover of the house for a five-year stint. That interlude aside, Viard's loyalties remained clear; in an interview with Madame Figaro in 2017, she confessed: "I’ve always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else!".
Following 36 years of assured Lagerfeld-ian custody, that profound understanding of Chanel's uniqueness in the fashion sphere boosted by all the training she accrued working alongside one of the most legendary designers ever, makes Viard the obvious choice to lead the brand in its new chapter. With the question of succession neatly resolved, the fashion set has moved on to guessing what Viard's Chanel will look like; until that first runway exit, though, none of us know anything.
Change is inevitable — while she may have spent three decades in service to Lagerfeld's vision, make no mistake that she is a distinct talent on her own, and a formidable one at that — but when it comes from a place of genuine reverence and affection, such as Viard clearly possesses for Chanel, there's cause for little else besides optimism and excitement.
Karl would surely be proud.