Home > Style > Fashion > Virginie Viard, Karl Lagerfeld’s trusted right-hand takes over at Chanel
Virginie Viard, Karl Lagerfeld’s trusted right-hand takes over at Chanel

Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85 in Paris on 19th February 2019 and very quickly, French fashion house Chanel announced the appointment of his successor on Instagram, as if the contingency plan was drafted way before the death of the Kaiser.

Meet Virginie Viard. The director of Chanel’s Fashion Creation Studio and Lagerfeld’s right-hand for over 30 years has taken over as the creative lead of the brand – continuing the historic legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.

“Virginie is the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything. She is my right arm and even if I don’t see her, we are on the phone all the time,” said the Lagerfeld in Netflix’s docu-series 7 Days Out, which includes a 45-minute episode on the Chanel Haute Couture SS18 show.

Viard took a solo bow after the finale of the Chanel couture show last month after Lagerfeld was said to be feeling ‘too tired’ to make an appearance. Viard who usually prefers to fly under-the-radar has been spotted walking alongside Lagerfeld in past shows wearing her long dark hair in a thick fringe and her usual combo of denim jackets, jeans and flat shoes.

Viard took the final bow at the recent couture fashion show in Paris. (Credit: Estrop/Getty Images)

But her role has been significant all along. Viard has been bringing Lagerfeld’s sketches to life – she’s probably the only one who truly understands every stroke etched by the legendary fashion designer. It was as though her mind and Lagerfeld’s were in sync.

“I visualise the show, get things ready for him, decide on materials, coordinate the teams and liaise with suppliers,” she shared.

No words could describe exactly her experience working alongside Lagerfeld for over three decades. Whether he’s a colleague, a mentor or a boss, Viard confided that hierarchy is the last thing one would feel in the Chanel workroom.

“I love to please him, but also surprise him. He is very sensitive like all creative people, but very faithful and generous, which might not be what people would guess”
Virginie Viard
Virginie Viard walked alongside Karl Lagerfeld and his godson Hudson Kroenig during Chanel Metiers D’Art 2018/19 Show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 04, 2018 in New York City. (Credit: Getty Images)

Viard was born in Dijon, a city in eastern France. She came from a family of silk makers, which explained her natural trajectory into fashion. But she was not entirely keen to be working in the fashion industry back then, saying: “Of course, I looked at the magazines but I was much more taken by Nouvelle Vague (French new wave) films and stylish actresses like Anna Karina and Gena Rowlands.”

She studied at Le Cours Georges, a fashion institution based in Lyon, majoring in film and theatrical costume. While working with Dominique Borg on the film Camille Claudel, Viard had a chance meeting with Chanel. She continued to work with legendary glove-maker Madame Tribouillard and renowned milliner Maison Michel before she was invited to work as an intern for haute-couture embroidery at Chanel in 1987 (thanks to a recommendation to Lagerfeld by Prince Rainier of Monaco’s mutual friend); marking the start of a 32-year relationship with the late Lagerfeld.

Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard circa 2000. (Credit: Facescoop)
“It sounds ages ago but since nothing is ever routine with Karl – he is so spontaneous and in the moment – I sometimes forget what we did six months ago”
Virginia Viard

She is the heart of Chanel; the mediator between Lagerfeld and the ghost of Gabrielle Chanel (while some beg to differ), and the translator of Chanel’s code of aesthetics to the world.

Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard made an appearance together during the Chanel cruise show at the Grand Palais in Paris on May 3rd, 2018. (Credit: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)

There have been no announcements as to how long Viard will be running the show at Chanel but the swift succession suggests that Chanel may follow the model of Alexander McQueen – McQueen’s closest colleague Sarah Burton took over when he died in 2010.

Viard faces an uphill task as she puts her own spin on the reputable fashion house while honouring the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld – both were huge influences on the world of fashion.

“I like to think of myself as the one who helps his (Lagerfeld’s) vision come alive,” she once said but will she now do it the Kaiser’s way?

(Featured image: Russh)

Martin Teo
Martin has a bent for history and food culture, especially of the Peranakan heritage. Since the pandemic, he finds joy in plant parenting and continues to expand his collection of Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Syngoniums. He's now on a lookout for the elusive Philodendron Florida Beauty to add to his urban garden.