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Virginie Viard is the new creative director of Chanel

Karl's right-hand woman for more than 30 years will take the reins of the fashion house

Virginie Viard is the new creative director of Chanel Karl's right-hand woman for more than 30 years will take the reins of the fashion house

The fashion industry started getting suspicious last January when at the Chanel SS19 Haute Couture show Karl didn't show up for the final bow. In his place, elegantly dressed in black, there was Virginie Viard, along with Vittoria Ceretti in the bride dress. Karl hadn't skipped a show since 1983, but the Parisian fashion house minimised the episode declaring that Karl was simply tired. Yesterday arrived the sad news: Karl Lagerfeld has passed away in Paris at 85 years old.

The leadership of Chanel, posting a tribute photo to Karl on Instagram, announced a few hours after his death the name of his successor. 

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 [CEO of Chanel] with the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on.

Daughter of a couple of doctors but with a granddad who was a silk merchant, the reason why she spent her childhood immersed in fabrics and cloths, Virginie was a 20-year-old seamstress when she first entered the Chanel Haute Couture atelier in 1987, leaving behind her experience as a theatre costume designer. The encounter between Virginie and Karl was love at first sight, both from an artistic and aesthetic point of view, a creative, unbreakable and prolific synergy. Lagerfeld called her more than once "My right hand, but also my left hand", theirs was a relationship of sincere affection and deep friendship. Rumour has it that Virginie was able to tell when Karl was about to arrive at the headquarters of the house even before the driver would turn into Rue Cambon. 

Viard followed Karl even during the interlude at Chloé, before returning permanently at Chanel in 1997, giving life to decades of pure creativity, bringing Chanel back to the top of the luxury market. At the beginning of the '00s, Virginie moved on to Prêt-à-Porter, becoming in a very short period of time one of the most powerful personalities within the fashion house. 

My job is to bring to life the collections together with the ateliers starting from Karl's sketches. I coordinate the teams, I have a direct dialogue with the suppliers and I pick the fabrics. Then, of course, I take part in the fittings with Karl. As soon as I get the sketches the process begins. I try to please him, but I try to surprise him as well. 

Now Virginie Viard will be in charge of the eight annual collections of Chanel. Her appointment was definitely the result of a desire for continuity and cohesion. The CEO of the French fashion house made a similar choice to the one made by Gucci with Alessandro Michele: there's no need of big names or celeb-designers, what really matters are the creative minds within the fashion house, people who truly know the history and the legacy of the brand. The operation at Gucci was a great success, it will most likely happen at Chanel too. 
For years speculations circulated about Karl's future heir, Lagerfeld himself once declared that he wanted Haider Ackermann as his successor, but later denied it. Hedi Slimane, Karl's protegeé and close collaborator and friend, was considered by many as one of the most eligible names, as it was Phoebe Philo after her departure from Céline. But now we know that 30 years of experience next to Karl matter more than anything else. It's still not clear, though, whether Viard's appointment will be temporary or definitive. 

For Virginie "Femininity is in the attitude, in the behaviour. It's a mix of elegance and delicacy, a subtle and intangible state, a bit like a perfume". Hers will be a strong and fold style, unafraid of experimenting with cuts, fabrics and silhouettes, always taking into consideration Karl's lesson. Anyway, what is certain is that Virginie Viard will be the first woman to become the creative director of Chanel after Coco herself.