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Who is Virginie Viard, Chanel’s new Creative Director?

By Marjorie van Elven

Feb 20, 2019

Virginie Viard managed to remain relatively anonymous even though she held one of the most powerful positions in the fashion industry: Director of Chanel’s Creation Studio. She was Karl Lagerfeld’s right and left hand for over 30 years, bringing the German designer’s sketches to life. She was the one making decisions about fabrics, managing Chanel’s suppliers and supervising the seamstresses. “I hate being in the spotlight”, she once told Dutch newspaper Financiele Dagblad.

Now all eyes are on her whether she likes it or not, as Chanel sees her as Lagerfeld’s natural successor. “Viard [...] has been entrusted by [CEO] Alain Wertheimer with the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on”, said the French fashion house yesterday upon announcing Lagerfeld’s passing.

Although she already greeted the audience alone at Chanel’s Spring 2019 haute couture show in January, as Lagerfeld was allegedly “too tired” to join, Viard’s baptism of fire will come on March 5, when she unveils the Autumn/Winter 2019-2010 ready-to-wear collection in Paris. Until then, fashionistas the world over are eager to learn more about the French woman now in charge of Chanel, considering she has no social media presence. Here’s what we know about her:

She comes from a family of silk manufacturers

Fashion runs in Viard’s family: her grandparents were silk manufacturers, which prompted her to study film and theatrical costume at Le Cours Georges, a fashion school in Lyon. She started her career as an assistant to costume designer Dominique Borg.

She started at Chanel as an intern

Viard brings hope to fashion interns paying their dues around the world -- she joined Chanel in 1987 as an intern at the embroidery studio. Truth be told, though, she wasn't your average intern. She was recommended to the job by the chamberlain of Prince Rainier of Monaco, a friend of her family’s -- and Lagerfeld’s.

She worked with Lagerfeld at Chloé too

After five years working under Lagerfeld’s wing at Chanel, she followed him to Chloé in 1992 and worked there for five more years before returning to Chanel as Studio Director.

Viard and Lagerfeld were very good friends

“Virginie is the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything”, said Lagerfeld in the Netflix documentary 7 Days Out, which captures the drama behind the scenes seven days leading up to Chanel’s Spring 2018 haute couture show. “She is my right arm and even if I don’t see her, we are on the phone all the time”.

Viard also spoke fondly of her mentor and friend. “Over the years, there have been tiring moments, things unspoken, but overall, always, respect and kindness”, she once told Grazia magazine. “My work is to make sure he’s happy. I try to anticipate what he likes. I try to please him but I also try to surprise him”, she declared in another interview with British newspaper The Telegraph.

She doesn’t follow trends

Like Lagerfeld, who always wore his signature ponytail and black suit, Viard says her personal style is not guided by trends. She prefers wearing timeless, discrete pieces -- something that sounds, indeed, very Chanel. “I have always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else”, she is quoted by French publication Madame Figaro as saying.

Picture: Bertrand Guay / AFP