Chanel’s New Chapter: A Reflection

Looking back at Chanel Cruise 2020 provides hints for Virginie Viard's future for the storied brand.

Lagerfeld and Viard closing Chanel Spring/Summer 2019 Presentation

It’s been a few months since Virginie Viard’s debut at Chanel with Cruise 2020.  Since Karl Lagerfeld’s passing, there has been much speculation about Chanel’s future in the industry. Viard gave us many indications as to where she intends to bring the legendary fashion house in the future, what remains to be seen is how well her plans are received by fickle luxury shoppers and if general hype around the brand will fade without its infamously crass figurehead at the helm. Let’s take a look at what we know.

1. Viard and Lagerfeld have history

Lagerfeld first met Viard when they worked together at Chloe.  He took the young designer under his wing and brought her to Chanel in the 80’s where she served as his studio director and right-hand. Though not in the public eye, it was later revealed to the outside world that Viard was extremely close with Lagerfeld.  This is clear in her first collection where the designer paid obvious homage to the late legend.

2. A woman’s POV

Right out of the gate at Cruise 2020, Viard showed us that she was bringing a whole new point of view when it comes to design. A pant like that would never have been cleared in Lagerfeld’s atelier.  Which is okay, different designs from different designers. The point is, Viard made it clear to us that she is not Lagerfeld and she is certainly not going to pretend she is. She has a very feminine approach to design and she’s not going to apologize. Which, is frankly a bold move but an appropriate one nonetheless. 

3. Balance with tradition

We didn’t really know what to expect from the new Creative; she could have gone full Lagerfeld and just tried to continue his 3 decade trajectory or she could have thrown it all out the window onto the Rue Cambon and done something completely revolutionary (which, honestly, there was a very slim chance of this, but you never know). Instead she landed somewhere in the middle, steadfast in the tomes of the house, referencing Lagerfeld along the way, and bringing new shapes and interpretations to the familiar Chanel looks. 

4. Viard isn’t well known

In the age of the celebrity designer (Virgil Abloh, Kim Jones, Hedi Slimane) there was some speculation that Chanel mucky-mucks would bring fresh blood into the Chanel family. Opting for Viard tells us a lot about the strategy Chanel has moving forward into a post-Lagerfeld era. Choosing someone familiar to the inner workings of the Chanel brand who was a pupil of Lagerfeld’s tells us that the Chanel executives were not willing to deviate entirely from their current path. They took a chance on a little-known name that would be provide a bit more stability as they transitioned into a new chapter for the brand. 

5. Viard doesn’t have supreme control

Changes moving into a post-Lagerfeld Chanel included shifts internally for the brand. Lagerfeld has a monopoly on everything produced by the brand. He shot campaigns, designed ready-to-wear and couture, produced brand films, and beyond. As the brand transitions, however, there will be less autonomy for Viard. Responsibilities have been delegated to other high-ranking creatives within the company, giving perhaps less control to the creatives themselves and more power to the executives who look to guide the Chanel ship instead. In the digital age it isn’t a surprise, as there are so many facets of luxury brands beyond garments and accessories. This may result in a more disjointed Chanel than consumers are used to. 

At the end of the season, fashion is a never-ending story. Chanel is a powerhouse thanks to Karl Largerfeld, the company is such a success that they have the money to buy out and employ entire ateliers to do its bidding.  (There is a specialized atelier entirely for pleats, which, who knew, and also, thank God.) Even with the division of leadership Viard has very, very large boots to fill. With a nearly impossible task of stepping out from under Lagerfeld’s enormous shadow, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Viard certainly brings a sense of stability and familiarity.  Chanel has signaled that it is moving on in multiple ways. Appropriate nods to the past with staffing decisions and ceremonies honoring Lagerfeld send signals to consumers that, yes, Chanel is historic, but also, yes, we can move forward from this. Viard also did a wonderful job bringing a sense of balance to Chanel consumers waiting with bated breath that they might lose what they love in their favorite brand. Now, only time will tell if Chanel can keep its image up in the eyes of the consumer without the crutch of a major celebrity who didn’t really even pretend to be “behind the scenes.”  But who knows, maybe Viard will turn out to be a celebrity in her own right. All we can do now is continue watching the seasons roll by. At the very least, we’re guaranteed a good show. 

Our favorite look: