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Who will come after Virginie Viard at Chanel?

Auditions for new creative director are officially open

Who will come after Virginie Viard at Chanel? Auditions for new creative director are officially open

With a move that surprised many, Virginie Viard has left after five years as the creative director of Chanel, and the company announced that a new creative direction will be announced soon. Viard, who is 62, inherited her role following the death of Karl Lagerfeld in 2019, and since then has ushered in a period perhaps not loved by critics and the public, but certainly prosperous financially. According to the fashion oracle Miss Tweed, Viard actually wanted to retire from the scene after more than thirty years within the brand: the designer started her journey in 1987 as an intern and quickly rose through the ranks to become Lagerfeld's right-hand. Despite her departure, Chanel's winter Haute Couture collection will proceed as planned, with its presentation set for June 25 at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. This shows how much of the brand's success is more linked to its brand recognition rather than designer recognition.

Just a few weeks ago, Chanel had reaffirmed its confidence in Viard, following a year of record revenues in 2023. Under her leadership, the brand recorded a revenue of $19.7 billion, marking a 16% increase in one year, with strong growth across all categories and markets, including ready-to-wear, which more than doubled in a single year. CEO Leena Nair and CFO Philippe Blondiaux had emphasized that the brand's strategy and creative direction would remain unchanged – leading many to sincerely believe that the gossip about a creative leadership change was far off. Needless to say, the hunt for the next creative director is now open. Three names are circulating: Hedi Slimane, Pierpaolo Piccioli, and Sarah Burton. The possibilities are varied. According to Miss Tweed, Hedi Slimane is the main contender, a move that would make sense for the brand that could finally launch a profitable men's line, although it might be challenging to reconcile Slimane's typically required total creative control with the reality of a brand that's difficult to "tame" like Celine. Additionally, there might be a non-compete contract to consider, which could prevent Slimane from switching teams for several months or even a whole year.

Things are different for Pierpaolo Piccioli: a designer already well-versed in Haute Couture, extremely strong commercially, and theoretically perfect to "fix" Chanel's reputation, which despite rising sales, might want to resolve its issue with social media comments that have been harshly criticizing the designer's collections and the red carpet looks of its ambassadors for years. Less substantiated are the rumors that suggest Sarah Burton leading the brand, but her potential creative direction could be an interesting new chapter in the career of a brilliant designer who has remained in the shadow of Alexander McQueen her entire life – the advantages of her appointment are similar to those of Piccioli, and surely, as the brand is entirely focused on womenswear, it could make sense to promote a female designer.