The Woman Behind Chanel: Virginie Viard, Director of Chanel’s Fashion Creation Studio
We may know little about Karl Lagerfeld’s successor, but Virginie Viard definitely knows everything about Chanel and its values. The new creative director hates being in the spotlight she used to say, but she will be for a while now since her new role marks the first time a female designer is taking the helm of the brand since Gabrielle Chanel herself.
Viard, the eldest of five siblings, was raised in Lyon, France, her father a ski champion turned surgeon and her maternal grandparents silk manufacturers. Growing up, she thought Chanel to be old. The designer studied at a fashion school in Lyon, Le Cours Georges, where she specialized in film and theatrical costume.
Viard was actually recommended for an internship to Karl Lagerfeld by Prince Rainier of Monaco’s head of protocol, a family friend. She joined Chanel as an intern in haute-couture embroidery in 1987–four years after Lagerfeld.
In 2017 she told The Telegraph: “I make the collections come to life with the ateliers and the Métiers d’Art houses, based on Karl’s sketches.” Viard says their process begins when Lagerfeld completes one of his famous colored-pencil-and-pastel sketches, which he still does by hand. “I immediately dispatch each sketch to each première d’atelier, according to her skills and capabilities.
“I coordinate the teams, liaise with suppliers and choose fabrics. Then, of course, I do fittings with Karl. As soon as I receive his sketches, the process begins. I try to please him, but I like to surprise him too.”
“I started working at Chanel in 1987, where I was soon in charge of embroidery. I loved going to Lesage, and I still find the same pleasure in going there. When Karl took over Chloé, I followed him and worked there for five years. I didn’t really notice a difference, since I was still just working with Karl. My mother and my aunts all wore Chloé dresses. I always liked it. Afterwards, when we left Chloé, I returned to Chanel as coordinator of haute couture. I didn’t start handling ready-to-wear until 2000. Then the team got much bigger…” Viard told the French magazine Crash.
Viard, Karl Lagerfeld’s closet collaborator of more than 30 years, is now given the monumental task of ensuring that the legacies of both Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld live on.
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“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.”