Virginie Viard: Bringing the Legacy of Chanel into a New Era

Virginie Viard: Bringing the Legacy of Chanel into a New Era

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In the ever-evolving world of fashion, few names resonate with as much prestige and timeless elegance as Chanel. From 2019 to 2024, Virginie Viard stood at the helm of this iconic fashion house, a woman whose creative vision and unwavering dedication continued to bring Chanel forward. 
Text by Lara Oliveri

As the successor to designer Karl Lagerfeld, who was at the helm of the house for more than 35 years, Viard embraced the challenge of preserving Chanel’s heritage while infusing it with her own distinctive style.

From intern to creative director

Viard was born in 1962 in Lyon, France. Her journey into the realm of fashion commenced through her family, as her grandparents worked in the silk industry, whereafter she worked in costume design. Viard’s journey with Chanel, and the fashion industry as a whole, began long before she assumed the role of creative director. Having joined the house as an intern in the haute couture embroidery department in 1987, Viard quickly caught the eye of Karl Lagerfeld with her talent and passion for craftsmanship. 

The late Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard. Image: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images / ELLE

Over the years, she rose through the ranks, working in both haute couture and ready-to-wear. She followed Lagerfeld to French house Chloé where she worked between 1992 and 1997, after which she returned to Chanel continuing working as Lagerfeld’s right-hand for more than thirty years. This apprenticeship provided Viard with a profound understanding of Chanel’s aesthetic codes and traditions while experiencing how someone like Lagerfeld infused them with his own vision.

Classic meets modern 

Upon Lagerfeld’s passing in 2019, Viard immediately stepped into the role as the new creative director of Chanel, a position she was being prepared for since Lagerfeld’s health decline. Responsible for both haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessory collections, she approached her tenure with a deep reverence for Chanel’s legacy. Just like she learned under the leadership of Lagerfeld, she also combined the heritage of the house with her own modern, more bohemian style. 

Her designs seamlessly blended the classic with the contemporary, paying homage to Chanel’s iconic tweed suits, quilted handbags, and timeless pearls while also embracing new silhouettes and materials. Under her guidance, the fashion house embraced new technologies and sustainable practices. Whether incorporating eco-friendly fabrics into her designs or using exquisite handmade embroidery, Viard continued to prove that Chanel is a heritage brand with its sights set on the future.

New bags 

Since assuming the role of creative director at Chanel, Virginie Viard introduced several new bag styles that reflect her contemporary vision while honouring the brand’s timeless heritage. 

The Chanel 22 bag

One of these new styles is the Chanel 22 bag, which features a modern silhouette with a mix of quilted leather and chain details, offering a fresh take on the classic Chanel aesthetic. The bag made its debut during the Spring/Summer 2022 ready-to-wear show, bearing a name that not only reflects the year it was crafted but also pays homage to the original N˚22 Eau de Parfum, launched in 1922.

The Hobo bag

More recently, she created a new Hobo style with classic quilted leather and a chained logo. Made in several sizes, this new bag style debuted at the 2024 Resort Show. 

The Chanel “Kelly”

A final new addition to Viard’s portfolio is the Chanel Nano Shopping bag. This diminutive top-handle, already nicknamed the Chanel “Kelly” on social media, mirrors the robust handle and trapezoidal silhouette of the iconic Hermès piece. Available in small and… smaller (13 × 19 × 7 cm and 8 x 12.5 x 4), it’s designed to carry just the essentials, adding the perfect finishing touch to any spring ensemble.

The Chanel 19 bag

Together with Lagerfeld, Viard also co-created the Chanel 19, a new iteration of the classic Chanel Flap Bag. Additionally, Viard has introduced variations of the iconic Chanel Flap Bag, incorporating new materials, textures, and embellishments to give them a modern twist.

Each of these new and updated styles showcases Viard’s innovative approach to design while staying true to Chanel’s legacy of luxury and sophistication.

First woman since Coco Chanel

The appointment of Viard as creative director marks the first time a woman has been at the helm of the fashion house since Gabrielle Chanel herself. One of Viard’s key strengths lies in her ability to capture the essence of Chanel’s founder while interpreting it through a modern lens. Like Chanel, Viard understands the importance of fluidity and movement in clothes which is a result of a woman creating for other women. Her clothes are seen as female-driven to make women feel both elegant and liberated. Viard’s collections often featured fluid lines, relaxed tailoring, and a sense of effortless chic that resonates with contemporary women around the world.

Virginie Viard and Coco Chanel. Image: (left) Tatler Asia, (right) Harper’s Bazaar.

Virginie Viard’s tenure as creative director of Chanel represented a seamless fusion of past, present, and future. By honouring the house’s rich heritage while embracing innovation and modernity, Viard ensured that Chanel remained synonymous with sophistication and style for generations to come.

Explore the timeless charm of Chanel with SACLÀB’s curated collection.

Header image: Business of Fashion


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