For over 30 years Virginie Viard worked alongside Karl Lagerfeld, after his death in February she officially became his successor at Chanel. Now she has presented her first collection of her own – and paid respect to him.
Of course, the invitation to Virginie Viard’s first Chanel show after Karl Lagerfeld’s death in February was a white canvas, the symbol of a new beginning. Instead of Karl Lagerfeld, it was Bruno Pavlovsky who wrote the greeting cards that the guests of the show found in their hotel rooms the evening before.
That means something. Pavlovsky is the “President of Fashion” at Chanel and thus responsible for the business side of fashion in the company. He has made the Lagerfeld era so economically successful since 1990. The Chanel brand will continue to grow on the foundations that were only possible with Karl Lagerfeld. It has to be.
The most difficult task imaginable
Pavlovsky always stresses in interviews that Chanel is “about creation”. The task facing Virginie Viard was the most beautiful and difficult imaginable for a designer. Viard stood at Karl Lagerfeld’s side for over 30 years, most recently as head of the Chanel studios. Of course, after 36 years someone hasn’t just left, especially a Karl Lagerfeld.
This was also made clear by the decision of the Wertheimer family, the owners Chanels, to make Virginie Viard the successor of Karl Lagerfeld. The Lagerfeld era is to continue with her. The designer is at the very beginning and will now find out what Chanel is supposed to stand for. The title of her collection: “Destination Chanel”. The way is the goal.
The brand should stand above the designer, according to internal reports from Chanel circles. Even though Karl Lagerfeld repeatedly referred to Coco Chanel, this was never the case with him. The Chanel codes that we see today as so typical for the brand were inspired by their work, but they were created by him. Virginie Viard now built her collection on these codes, the typical Lagerfeld vocabulary.
Pieces like the long cardigans with piping, the patterned flounced dresses, the narrow lace robes, of course the mini costumes, the wide culottes, the narrow Bermudas. Much of what Karl Lagerfeld had once designed came together almost retrospectively. It was light, fresh, feminine, modern, traditional, very Chanel.
In the last seasons it was often rumored that Viard had already contributed at least as much as Lagerfeld creatively to the collections. Her collection is perhaps so pleasantly unagitated because it represents exactly the smooth transition that those responsible at Chanel had wished for and hoped for after Lagerfeld’s death. Virginie Viard just goes on. She knows better than anyone how Lagerfeld thought he had made his decisions.
Karl Lagerfeld invented the principle of making a resort show, the once so insignificant mid-season, a happening by inviting his guests to places important to Chanel and holding spectacles there. In the last few years, as in the summer and winter seasons, he has been building this world at the Grand Palais. Virginie Viard followed suit. Train tracks and platforms could be seen in the set, the stops were former locations of Lagerfeld’s resort shows, including Antibes and Saint-Tropez. Obviously it was important for Viard to explain this, detailed notes on the show were distributed. This had never happened under Lagerfeld near Chanel. Chanel didn’t have to explain himself, he again preferred to do this personally with selected journalists after his shows.
The Bella Hadids of this world were missing
In the cast Virginie Viard relied on some of Karl Lagerfeld’s favourite models: Anna Ewers, Adesuwa Aighewi, Vittoria Ceretti. The Bella Hadids, the It girls of this world, were missing. It remains to be seen whether Chanel will shape entire careers in the future and turn models into high-fashion stars, as Karl Lagerfeld was able to do with Claudia Schiffer in the 1990s and Cara Delevingne in the 2010s. It still seems too early for new faces in this sensitive time of new beginnings. Safety seems to be the Virginie Viard principle, and above all: respect. Before the task, before Lagerfeld’s legacy.
Perhaps that will remain so, perhaps she will develop her own language more and more. The same happened to Sarah Burton when, after the death of the great Alexander McQueen, she took over the fate of the brand after many years as his right hand. Slowly and deliberately she found her own obsessions. This was rarely as revolutionary and moving as McQueen himself, but economically the principle works. Virginie Viard could also have done like Alessandro Michele, who had also worked for Gucci for a long time before becoming creative director – but who presented his very own revolutionary aesthetic with a bang. But would this principle have been appropriate for Chanel? Probably not.
Chanel without Karl Lagerfeld
When Karl Lagerfeld took over the creative management of Chanel in 1983, the brand was in a much-described slumber. Today it is one of the most valuable brands in the world. Viard’s starting position today is quite different from the one Lagerfeld was confronted with at the time. The question is whether Chanel can remain the Lagerfeld Chanel by continuing to proceed as if she were his right hand – only that he is no longer there. And whether Chanel can even stay Chanel today without a camp field.
On the evening before the show, Chanel organized an event in which watches and jewellery were shown. “Decisive Seconds” was the motto, decisive seconds. How does it go on? Time will tell.