Chanel: Virginie Viard leaves the artistic direction

Chanel announced on the night of June 5-6 the departure of its discreet artistic director, Virginie Viard. Formerly Karl Lagerfeld’s creative right-hand woman, she had the onerous task of succeeding him following his untimely death in 2019.

 

Has the spirit of Karl Lagerfeld become too cumbersome for the Maison de la rue Cambon? This is certainly the case, as Chanel suddenly sees the departure of its artistic director, in post since 2019 and a living memory, in her own way, of the famous fashion’s polymath.

 

Some see this surprise announcement, just a few weeks before Paris Fashion Week (June 18 to 23, 2024) and Paris Haute Couture (June 24 to 27, 2024), as a continuation of the waves of departures that the House has been experiencing since Alain Wertheimer recruited the Anglo-Indian Leena Nair as its new director in 2022.

 

The challenge for the Parisian House – now under British flag – is to return to value creation, via a strategy of elevation based on more than just the price of its products. Indeed, its latest successive price hikes have unleashed anger and incomprehension on social networks, necessitating a statement from the brand.

 

Fashion blitz

 

It was therefore a thunderclap of rare brutality that resounded through the Fashion sphere last night in the coldness of a Chanel press release: the unexpected departure of its artistic director Virginie Viard, in post for 5 years.

 

“Chanel confirms the departure of Virginie Viard after a rich collaboration of five years as Artistic Director of Fashion Collections, during which she renewed the House’s codes while respecting Chanel’s creative heritage, and nearly thirty years with the House.”

 

He added: “A new creative organization for the House will be announced in due course. The haute couture summer 2024 collection will be presented as planned on June 25 at the Opéra Garnier.”

 

The designer’s departure comes as all the more of a surprise, given that less than two weeks ago Chanel presented annual sales for 2023 up 14.6% to 18.2 billion euros. In other words, record results for the third year running.

 

More Coco than Karl

 

 

Yet Virginie Viard has a unique profile in fashion. Few talents can claim to have spent their entire career with the same fashion house, or even to have been Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand woman “and left-hand woman”, as he puts it, for 30 years.

 

When she joined Chanel in 1987 as an intern, the Kaiser had been Artistic Director for just four years, and was busy reviving a House that many had seen as moribund just a few years earlier. On the contrary, Karl Lagerfeld succeeded in revitalizing the cruise collections, introducing Métiers d’art and pre-collections, restoring haute couture to its former glory, and creating the House’s ready-to-wear line. An outstanding communicator with a flair for the spectacular, he turned the Maison into a mega-brand with a worldwide aura.

 

Virginie Viard followed him to Chloé in 1992, before returning to the double-C House in 1997. Appointed Director of the Fashion Design Studio in 2000, she nevertheless remained in the designer’s shadow. Feeling his decline, the Kaiser decided to put her more in the spotlight from 2017 onwards.

Out of loyalty rather than careerism, she succeeded him as Creative Director, following his death in February 2019.

 

Aware of Karl Lagerfeld’s colossal influence on the House’s image, she decided to “do Chanel in her own way, far from her mentor’s XXL fashion shows, with collections imbued with femininity, lightness and sobriety.

 

This approach, far from Karl Lagerfeld’s assumed flamboyance, earned the designer virulent and persistent criticism on social networks. Only her collection presented in March, a tribute to the Normandy seaside resort of Deauville and Claude Lelouch’s film “Un homme et une femme” – winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival – had convinced a wide audience.

 

A Leena Nair effect?

 

While neither Chanel nor Virginie Viard have given any reason for Viard’s sudden departure, some experts are beginning to point the finger at Leena Nair, the company’s CEO since 2022.

 

Her managerial style, inherited from the mass market sector (Unilever) and the Anglo-Saxon culture of performance, could be a factor in this decision. It’s hard to say whether the departure was Virginie Viard’s doing or whether the company was looking for new blood.

 

In recent months, La Maison au double C has lost six of its senior executives. These include its President and Chief Operating Officer (COO), its Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, its Head of Open Innovation and its Head of Travel Retail Worldwide. These are all senior executives responsible for the company’s key markets: the UK, the Americas, Japan and Asia-Pacific.

 

Behind this all-encompassing reshuffle lies the company’s desire to turn over a new leaf. In this respect, Virginie Viard’s departure may be an opportunity for Chanel to completely shed the tutelary figure of Karl Lagerfeld and impose an unknown designer from a rival House like Kering with Sabato de Sarno, ex-Valentino, appointed at Gucci… Unless it’s a superstar like Hedi Slimane, Céline’s current artistic director with a rock aura.

 

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Featured Photo: © Chanel

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Victor Gosselin
Victor Gosselin is a journalist specializing in luxury, HR, tech, retail, and editorial consulting. A graduate of EIML Paris, he has been working in the luxury industry for 9 years. Fond of fashion, Asia, history, and long format, this ex-Welcome To The Jungle and Time To Disrupt likes to analyze the news from a sociological and cultural angle.

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