Virginie Viard, ‘right hand’ of the German designer, bets for continuity in her first collection as designer of the French firm.
Collection is not signed by Karl Lagerfeld but by Virginie Viard
Leggings and romantic lace dresses that go from the seventies to the eighties; large raincoats and brief tweed jackets; leather breeches and patent leather shoes. Chanel presents at the Parisian Grand Palais its cruise collection, that which arrives at the stores after autumn-winter and before spring-summer and which, traditionally, is simpler and more commercial than the two main ones. After the parade, a new stage opens for Chanel: for the first time in 36 years, the collection is not signed by Karl Lagerfeld, but by Virginie Viard: his ‘right hand’ and ‘left’ – as he liked to call it – for three decades; successor of the German after his death last February, and the first woman to head the French maison after its founder, Coco Chanel.
The 57-year-old French designer went out to the catwalk to thank her for the applause dressed in rigorous black, her hair loose and her eyes smoky. I had just finished one of the parades that most interest -and morbid- will wake up this season. All eyes are on her and she knows it. It could not be otherwise. Substituting the man who turned a decadent sewing house into the best-known luxury firm on the planet and pillar of a company that last year billed more than 8,000 million euros seems a titanic mission. And not only because of Lagerfeld’s creative legacy, but because of his immeasurable charisma, which elevated him to the status of cultural icon of the 20th and 21st centuries. If any comparison is odious, it is directly lacerating, but, at the same time, necessary. The obvious conclusion is that Viard is committed to a lighter and more contemporary silhouette that distances itself from the classic patterns and the solemn – and sometimes rigid – fabrics that Lagerfeld defended. The tweed jackets become lighter and in general all the cuts look for the pieces to flow and accompany the movement of the body.
Despite this slight change in the architecture of the garments, everything in the first collection of Viard seemed to be measured to the millimeter to convey a clear message: the seal of Lagerfeld has not disappeared. Do not panic. All the symbols of Chanel that the German turned into icon of the house are still there, in their just and calculated dose: from the chains, which embraced the waist of the Americans, to the camellias, in plastic, embroidered on straight evening gowns and with a button on the back. The designer also winks at the personal style of her predecessor incorporating in some long dresses the soaring shirt collars that Lagerfeld always wore. Thus, the collection confirms the commitment to continuity that already foreshadowed her appointment as artistic director of fashion collections, not a creative director (the title that her predecessor had). A decision that surprised many.
For years the rumors have targeted star designers as possible substitutes for the maestro: first, Marc Jacobs after leaving Louis Vuitton; later, Alber Elbaz, former creative director of Lanvin, and Hedi Slimane, current designer of Celine. Finally Phoebe Philo, former head of the latter brand.
But against what has been happening in other major brands, the Wertheimer family, owner of the firm, decided to entrust their fate to Viard, a figure almost unknown in media terms but without which it would be impossible to understand the success of the brand. “Karl was the locomotive and Virginie, the rails of Chanel”, summed up in The New York Times the documentary maker Loïc Prigent, in charge of filming the works of the atelier before each collection.
Since she was appointed studio director in 2000, Viard has been in charge of translating the Lagerfeld sketches to silk and tweed, coordinating the different craft workshops that nourish the firm, selecting the fabrics, approving the casting of models and controlling every detail of the backstage, between an infinite list of responsibilities.
After studying theatrical and film costumes at Les Cours Georges, he met Lagerfeld in 1983 thanks to Prince Rainier de Monaco’s chief of protocol, who was a friend of his family, dedicated to the production of silk. Shortly after, she was put in charge of the embroidery division of Chanel. The German decided to take her to Chloé in 1992, where he worked as creative director until 1997, when Viard returned to Chanel as coordinator of the haute couture division.
The French embodies a modern fable, that of the second on board, always in the shade, to which after years of self-denial and work is given the opportunity to take the place of the star: Watson replacing Holmes. Always under the sword of sharp criticism by both sheets, oscillating between accusations of copy and betrayal of the master. And although expectations are good, you still have to give Viard some time to define his voice as a soloist.
In the center of the Parisian Grand Palais, receiving applause as designer of the most famous brand in the world, it is interesting to remember the statements made last January in an interview to Vogue Spain: “[Karl and I] are very different. I have good taste and I am a good stylist. But I do not consider myself creative. ”
FIRST STATION OF A NEW DESTINY
Chanel is famous for the spectacular assemblies with which she wraps the presentation of her collections. In recent years, it has converted the Parisian Grand Palais – where it celebrates its parades – into a supermarket, a casino and even a space shuttle. And on Friday he transformed it into a train station. It was the last idea of Karl Lagerfeld that will be materialized on a catwalk.
In Chanel, the scenarios and the theme of the collections are decided with relative advance – in this case six months -; and the firm and its new designer, Virginie Viard, decided to keep the decoration of rails and banks, which after the death of the kaiser acquired a strong metaphorical charge.