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The fashion industry reacts to Virginie Viard leaving Chanel after 5 years

Commentators praise the five-year tenure of the artistic director of fashion collections.

Virginie Viard went from being Karl Lagerfeld’s “right arm and left arm”, as he would refer to her, to being the safe pair of hands that continued his legacy, and that of Chanel, after his death. Viard joined Chanel as an intern in 1987. In 1992, Lagerfeld took her with him to Chloé, before the pair returned to Chanel five years later. Viard was appointed artistic director in 2019 following Lagerfeld’s death, signalling continuity and stability.

Inevitably, her tenure would be overshadowed by the late designer, though at the same time, it has met with success. Among her bold moves was the Métiers d’Arts show in Dakar — the house’s first-ever show in Africa, and the first-ever show to be held in Sub-Saharan Africa by any luxury fashion house — where Viard “reconfigured Chanel’s approach to this first post-pandemic destination show”, as reported by Vogue Business’s Luke Leitch. There was also the Métiers d’Arts show in Manchester, where Viard paid tribute to the vibrant culture of the British city.

She also created a sense of “girl power”, one industry insider notes. Viard worked to build a female community around the house, including model and socialite Charlotte Casiraghi, alongside a number of Chanel ambassadors in the form of actresses such as Margaret Qualley, Riley Keough and Rebecca Marder. The Cruise show in Los Angeles last year, just a month before the release of the Barbie movie (Chanel designed some of the costumes worn by Margot Robbie’s Barbie) perfectly embodied that. Under Viard, Chanel reinforced its enduring relationship with cinema, notably supporting films starring Chanel ambassadors. The house also flexed its ties to the film scene via its much-talked-about campaign starring Brad Pitt and Penélope Cruz. The short film, unveiled during the Autumn/Winter 2024 show in March, was a remake of Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman and was directed by Inez and Vinoodh.

Chanel sales jumped from $11.1 billion in 2018, just before she took the creative helm, to $19.7 billion in 2023. In that time, the fashion business was multiplied by 2.2, and in 2023, the ready-to-wear business grew by 23 per cent, CFO Philippe Blondiaux told Vogue Business in an interview in May. However, the brand’s healthy overall 16 per cent year-on-year sales growth in 2023, which placed it among top performers, was driven as much by price increases (9 per cent) as it was by volumes (7 per cent). On current trading in China, Blondiaux said: “The Chinese consumers went back to their pre-Covid travelling patterns, which means that, while we’re still successful with our Chinese clientele, growth is happening outside of China to a very large extent, more in Europe and in Japan than in Mainland China.”

The announcement of Viard’s departure took the industry by surprise. We reached out to fashion insiders and analysts for their reactions to the news, described by fashion journalist Loïc Prigent as “an earthquake of the highest order on the fashion Richter scale”.

Hélène Guillaume, editor-in-chief of fashion at Le Figaro

It’s sad because it marks the end of a great chapter of fashion that started with the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. The real succession to Karl Lagerfeld begins today. Beyond the recruitment of a new artistic director, it will be a generational change within the teams. The Wertheimer [brothers, Chanel owners,] had chosen the logic of a smooth transition, which has paid off: Virginie Viard’s collections have had tremendous commercial success. Despite a few irregularities, her legacy is one of femininity and lightness. Thanks to the exhibitions notably on Gabrielle Chanel at the Victoria & Albert Museum, she has also contributed to anchor the company’s heritage regardless of its creative director.

Alexandre Samson, curator of haute couture at Paris’s Palais Galliera

Virginie Viard’s detractors need to be reminded that Chanel is a style with codes, not theatrical gestures in the silhouettes. Covid also hit a few months after she became artistic director, a period when it was harder to stage spectacular shows in the way Karl Lagerfeld used to do. Plus, the Grand Palais [Chanel’s iconic show venue] went under renovation [from 2021 to 2024].

Mario Ortelli, managing partner of Ortelli & Co

Virginie Viard played an important role in continuing the heritage of Karl Lagerfeld. After an important chapter like the one of Karl Lagerfeld, abruptly interrupted by his death, it would have been difficult to start a chapter. Virginie Viard put into reality some of the ideas that Karl Lagerfeld didn’t have time to translate and gradually paved the way for a new chapter.

Erwan Rambourg, global head of consumer and retail equity research at HSBC

The track record of the brand has been pretty phenomenal, if you look at numbers. I don’t think Virginie Viard has done anything wrong. It’s just that you probably need some disruption after five years of continuity. In the current context, where the Chinese cluster is a question mark, the American consumer is very polarised, the European consumer is not that engaged, the Japanese consumer has landed, everything is slowing down.

Original article available on Vogue Business

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