"Virginie Viard, Director of CHANEL’s Fashion Creation Studio and Karl Lagerfeld’s closest collaborator for more than 30 years, has been entrusted by Alain Wertheimer with the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on," read the official statement.
While respected fashion veterans like Phoebe Philo (Celine) and Raf Simons (Calvin Klein) are currently without posts, the choice is not unexpected.
As far back as the 1920s, when Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel departed from her gamine aesthetic and expanded her French fashion house to adapt a more feminine look, the secretive Wertheimer family has been an integral part of Chanel's history. Venture capitalist Pierre Wertheimer helped Chanel build her perfume business, which included Chanel No. 5, and eventually took over ownership of her legacy brand. It makes since then, that grandson Alain Wertheimer would keep it in the family, so to speak, to choose someone who's already gained their trust to take over.
But who is Virginie Viard? Lagerfeld's second-in-command for most of his tenure at Chanel, Viard has been bowing alongside him at recent Chanel shows, and took his place at its spring 2019 haute couture event. She first joined Lagerfeld as his intern in 1987, and has remained at his side ever since, including his stint at Chloé in 1992 and his return to Chanel in 1997.
In a rare interview with Elle (Viard dislikes the spotlight), she detailed their longstanding working relationship. "I immediately dispatch each sketch to each première d’atelier, according to her skills and capabilities. I visualise the show, get things ready for him, decide on materials, coordinate the teams, and liaise with suppliers. I like to think of myself as the one who helps his vision come alive." In turn, Lagerfeld considered Viard his "right and left hand." She added that Lagerfeld was "very sensitive, like all creative people, but very faithful, generous—which might not be what people would guess."
Though it's yet to be announced, it's fair to assume that Viard will take Lagerfeld's final bow ahead of the fall 2019 ready-to-wear show in Paris in a few weeks. And it will solidify not only the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one, too — the by-women-, for-women Chanel that its founder was known for.