CHANEL: The Lagerfeld legacy, its evolution, and the maestro’s magnificent Fall/Winter finalè at Paris Fashion Week
The luxury fashion world paid tribute to leader, legend, and luminary Karl Lagerfeld earlier this month, as the icon’s latest and last collection for CHANEL opened with a minute’s silence for the late designer on Tuesday, March 5 at Paris Fashion Week.
Here, we offer a glimpse into the Lagerfeld’s final creations for the brand, and provide a rare run-down on Virginie Viard — the woman the emblematic house has anointed to take over artistic direction at the helm of the world’s most well-known luxury fashion label, in the virtuoso’s stead.
In a sombre-tinged show which ultimately epitomised solidarity, style, and substance at once, CHANEL’s Fall/Winter 2019 line — unveiled last week at the Grand Palais in Paris — emerged magnificently from a typically over-the-top winter wonderland setting fashioned in the image of a faux Swiss ski chalet; as friends, collaborators and fans looked on — no doubt reminiscing about the many highlights and achievements of Lagerfeld’s 35 years as the creative force behind the French couture house.
Never one for sappy sentimentality (he was quoted several times as saying he did not want a funeral), Lagerfeld master-minded the particulars of his farewell with the same poise, panache and grace with which he lived his life and forged CHANEL’s contemporary legacy. Nothing was left to chance, and everything was executed to perfection.
As guests waited with anticipation, models assembled, one by one, on the snow-covered steps of the central ‘chalet’ (the Chanel Gardenia), before a voiceover from Lagerfeld was played — from a recent CHANEL podcast — inaugurating the event and breaking the minute’s silence of earlier, as the icon’s words (in French) pierced the stillness of the serene landscape. It was all French, until final phrase, where he burst through in English with: “Oh! It’s like walking in a painting!”; and with that, the event was underway.
Actress and CHANEL runway favourite Cara Delevingne inaugurated the proceedings with a sense of ceremony; resplendent in a monochrome tweed ensemble — hands in pockets of perfectly tailored wide-led trousers, her famed chiselled features accented by a matching fedora hat and long, swirling coat in an outsized houndstooth pattern — a vision of the grace, beauty and subtle balance which has become the luxury empire’s calling card.
Iterations of Delevigne’s attire were repeated throughout the collection in carefully-curated mosaics and black, white and neutral palettes; interspaced with the same in tweed skirtsuits; tailed by a troop of immaculately groomed models sporting a series of rustic Alpine and Scandinavian pattern skirts and Nordic jumpers, adorned with embroidery and worn with shearling-edged climbing boots.
Fanny packs with double-C logos, jumpsuits, ruffled collars, and several versions of sleek, flowing capes in dark shades followed, with models sporting black ribbons in their hair, as Lagerfeld did, with some dressed conspicuously in the image of the late designer.
Imparting pops of colour in the landmark collection, were bubblegum pink looks and a line of fuchsia-coloured ski jackets and streetwear, masterfully contrasted against the array of woollen skirts and pairs of furry snow boots which had offered a touch of the opulent and exotic just prior.
Seguing into a poignant fairytale-like finalé of white evening wear, Penelope Cruz — one of the faces of the brand — took to the snowy runway in a white, feathery puffball dress, holding a single white rose in remembrance; while a teary-eyed Delevingne joined other models in a last lap of the catwalk to the sounds of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, before curtain close, resounding applause, and a standing ovation from the captive audience.
While the designs were undeniably Lagerfeld-esque, the house confirmed that he had worked closely on this most recent collection with his second-in-command Virginie Viard — who has since been named to take over the creative direction of the brand, and hails from an upper class French family with links to Monaco’s royals.
As previously announced, she will take on the role at the helm as artistic director of CHANEL, and assume the role of guiding the label’s creative vision jointly with long-time executive Eric Pfrunder, who will look after the brand’s image.
Who is Virginie Viard?
Standing tall at 5’ 8” and having recently assumed one of the most coveted posts in the luxury fashion universe, one would think that Virginie Viard — described as Lagerfeld’s “right and left hand” — would make for a relatively simple biography to write.
However, while she may have worked beside Mr Lagerfeld for more than 30 years — as his protégé after starting as an intern at CHANEL in 1987 — the now 57-year-old Viard has managed to keep a curiously low profile throughout the years, despite her many achievements and VIP status in the industry.
Search her on Google, and you may find a few interviews — a photo or three (including a shot of her taking a bow at the end of the haute couture collection in January when Mr. Lagerfeld was, according to a statement from the house, “feeling tired” and did not appear himself) — but by and large, Madame Viard is somewhat of an enigma, shrouded in much mystery when it comes to her convictions, fashion philosophy — and where she plans to take CHANEL next in its extraordinary journey.
She has no public social media presence to speak of, a role that remains largely out of the public eye, and — as The New York Times observes in its recent run-down of CHANEL’s newest helmer — despite her tenure, responsibilities and proximity to Mr. Lagerfeld, her name has been conspicuously absent from the Business of Fashion’s 500 list to date. Even her Wikipedia page is notably bare when compared to other fashion heavyweights of a similar thread.
What is known of Viard’s stellar trajectory to the top job at CHANEL — following Lagerfeld’s passing in February — is this:
Originally from Lyon, France — she first crossed Lagerfeld’s path in Paris after being recommended for an internship at the brand by Prince Rainier of Monaco’s head of protocol (a family friend); and, not long after, was put in charge of the embroidery section at the haute couturier’s ateliers.
According to the Times, Viard next followed Lagerfeld to Chloé, sailing through a five-year entr’acte at Chloé (still under his wing); before returning to CHANEL with him — and, in 1997, was named the studio director of CHANEL.
Since then, she’s worked tirelessly at the designer’s side — overseeing several collections a year (the number varies from six to ten depending on which media source you believe), and serving as a translator of the supremo’s vision. This has included liaising with suppliers, as well as the heads of seven ateliers, and regularly assessing what new or archival techniques would best seamlessly manifest the majesty of Lagerfeld’s creations.
As the (Times) story goes — “as soon as he completed a sketch, her [Viard’s] work began” — with her duties even expanding into runway-related responsibilities for the house’s events, such as Fashion Week shows and other global initiatives and campaigns — including approving the model casting for the brand and inspecting each detail backstage.
Throughout, she’s said to have remained one of Lagerfeld’s most loyal allies and a tried-and-trusted partner in maintaining the beautiful legacy created by Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel — and in forging its illustrious future to-date.
That said, the world will no doubt wait with bated breath to see how Viard decides to make her own mark on the iconic maison, now that she’s officially in charge — and we wish her all the best — particularly given that she takes to the helm as the only female designer of note to lead the house of CHANEL since Mademoiselle Coco herself ruled supreme.
It goes without saying that ‘Kaiser Karl’ will be missed in the industry, and beyond; however — to end this humble ode to CHANEL and its prospective evolution in his own words — one must: “Embrace the present and invent the future”.