virginie viard chanel creative director karl lagerfeld
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Earlier this week, Chanel announced that Virginie Viard will replace Karl Lagerfeld as creative director for the luxury French fashion house.

A close friend of the late designer, Viard has been under Lagerfeld’s wing for over three decades, described by many as his right-hand-woman, his protégé, and dear friend. She appeared alongside him as he closed his Spring/Summer 2019 show last year and represented him when he was feeling too tired to take a bow after what was his final couture show this January.

Yet despite emerging alongside Lagerfeld in front of the entire fashion world, Viard remains something of an enigma. So, as she readies herself to step into Lagerfeld’s immaculately-polished shoes at the head of the house, we round up everything you need to know about Chanel’s new creative director, Virginie Viard.

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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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Viard started out at Chanel as an intern

In 1987, four years after Lagerfeld was appointed as creative director in ’83, the chamberlain to Prince Rainer of Monaco recommended Viard for a position at Chanel. She subsequently joined the crew as a haute-couture embroidery intern, and so started a 32-year-long relationship with Chanel and with Lagerfeld.

She worked with Lagerfeld at Chloé before returning with him to Chanel

virginie viard chanel creative director karl lagerfeld
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Evidentially impressed with her work, she grew to become something of Lagerfeld’s protégé; he kept her by his side during a five-year stint at Chloé (’92-’97), before bringing her back to Chanel and appointing her as haute couture coordinator. In 2000, she began to oversee ready-to-wear.

She told French magazine Crash, “When Karl took over Chloé, I followed him and worked there for five years. I didn’t really notice a difference, since I was still just working with Karl.”

Their relationship wasn’t just professional

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It’s all French to me 📚

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Lagerfeld and Viard’s relationship wasn’t all fabric selections and atelier meetings, however. Over the years the pair grew close, with Lagerfeld explaining during Netflix’s 7 Days Out documentary series, “Virginie is the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything. She is my right arm and even if I don’t see her, we are on the phone all the time.”

What Lagerfeld did not divulge to Netflix, however, is that sometimes he would text Viard pretending to be his cat, Choupette. She revealed during an interview with W Magazine, “He signs them, Your Choupette,” she said before adding, “He might not like that I’m saying this.”

Viard has designed costume for film

chanel creative director virginie viard karl lagerfeld
Miramax

The granddaughter of silk manufacturers, Viard has always been intrigued by fashion but, she as told Crash magazine her original plan was to make theater costumes. She started out as a wardrobe assistant, working on several films and plays including ’93’s French drama Thee Colors: Blue starring Juliette Binoche, and ’94’s French-Polish comedy-drama Three Colors: White, both of which were directed by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Fashion is not her inspiration

Lagerfeld once said that fashion is a reflection of our lives and times, and it would seem that Viard takes a similar stance. She cites her son (specifically, her son doing his homework), music, theater, her partner, and exhibitions as just some of the non-industry inspirations that influence her work.

In the same Crash interview she explained, “I keep an eye on fashion, but it’s not what inspires me.” Rather, the way she designs is mostly intuitive. “I feel like I’m working the same way I did twenty years ago. And everything goes along smoothly because, above all, our studio is about teamwork. I don’t feel like I’m a “Director.”

What’s more, it doesn’t seem as though ego will have much of a place in her atelier. “Our hierarchy isn’t felt throughout the studio, it’s seamless. Though the teams do count on me, of course. There are never any conflicts. In the end, it’s Karl who looks at the outfits with the workshop leaders; I don’t even need to be there. It’s always he who has the last word.” That, however, is clearly about to change.

Senior Staff Writer
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