The future of Chanel rests in the hands of newly appointed creative director Virginie Viard, formerly the fashion studio director of the house and Lagerfeld’s longtime right-hand woman. According to an official statement released this morning via Chanel’s official Instagram, “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.”
Lagerfeld had a lifetime contract with Chanel, and for years many wondered who would take over for the iconic director in the event of his passing. Despite his affinity with Hedi Slimane, any speculation that he would take over for Lagerfeld was officially squashed in a 2017 statement given to WWD directly from the house. Rumors of the possibility of everyone from Marc Jacobs to Haider Ackerman have also risen and subsided through the years. But it was Viard who was right there all along, having worked with Lagerfeld at Chanel for more than three decades, going all the way back to 1987, just four years after Lagerfeld joined the label himself.
According to an interview Viard recently gave to Elle, she started at Chanel as just an intern (though she did come with the recommendation of Prince Rainier’s chamberlain). According to the Independent, Viard was then quickly placed in charge of embroidery not long after her internship began, and eventually, as the fashion studio director, she was responsible for overseeing eight collections each year. The only time Viard did not work for Chanel, she still remained linked to Lagerfeld. She briefly moved to Chloé in 1992 after Lagerfeld started a side job designing for the house (his second stint there), but she came back to Chanel after five years.
Viard’s work has extended to the film industry as well: She designed the costumes for Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue in 1993, starring Juliette Binoche and Julie Delpy, and was in charge of the wardrobe for Three Colors: White in 1994.
Now that Viard has been appointed creative director of Chanel, it is also worth noting that two of the biggest haute couture houses in the world are now led by women. Maria Grazia Chiuri was the first woman to be announced as Dior‘s creative director when she was appointed in July 2016. Viard will also be the first woman to lead Chanel since Coco Chanel herself.
Viard and Lagerfeld were more than just business partners; they were close friends and confidants. Viard told Elle, “I like to think of myself as the one who helps his vision come alive,” as she would bring each hand-drawn sketch made by Lagerfeld to the première d’atelier and prepare everything for the very private creative director. In the profile concerning his nautical cruise collection, Lagerfeld spoke fondly of Viard as his “right rector” and his “left hand,” before revealing that he thought their relationship to be “essential, doubled by a very real friendship and affection.”