For the past 36 years, Karl Lagerfeld has continued to carry on the legacy of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and has for decades been redefining the brand for each new generation, while keeping it iconically Chanel. This January, however, the future of Chanel has begun to fog. Their 2019 spring couture show, receiving mixed reviews from critics and the absence of Lagerfeld at the final bow, has the fashion world wondering where Chanel stands, and, more importantly, who Virginie Viard is— the woman who took Lagerfeld’s place at the show.
With the rise of Gucci and other luxury brands as staples of the emerging young consumer market, Chanel needs to adapt or we could continue to see a steady decline in the brand. For millennials, though, how do they see Chanel? We live in an era where fashion is being redefined by unique trends, alternative design and rebranding. Brands today have revamped their image, which has affected business positively.
We can see this across the industry with the promotion of new and rising designers at major brands— Alessandro Michele with Gucci and Virgil Abloh’s arrival at Louis Vuitton. Chanel has seen a drastic decrease in profit, losing 35% since 2016, going from $5.67 billion to $874 million for that year. The company still hasn’t fully recovered from the loss and took a hit to their overall revenue having it around $10 billion as of 2018.
With Chanel’s legacy on the line in these recent months and Karl’s sudden absence from the brand, this is where Virginie Viard comes in. In 1987, a young Viard joined Lagerfeld as studio director for Chanel. Since ‘87, she has been Lagerfeld’s right hand, filtering his sketches into their final result. One of her highlights at the brand was producing Chanel’s first ever timepiece collection, introducing the Première nearly 30 years ago. The timepiece became an instant hit and Viard cemented her place as an influential figure within the brand. Thirty-one years of experience under her wing and a close personal relationship with Lagerfeld might be what sets her up as the brand’s new creative director.
The legacy of Chanel is something that goes beyond fashion. It is movement and history. Coco Chanel pushed boundaries and freed the woman of the 1900s. She stood up men who sought to wrap women and crush their freedom. Till her death she fought to change the world around, creating iconic blazers, quilted bags and the world’s most well-known perfume. Coco Chanel worked until her death on January 10, 1971. Her life was her work and she cemented a legacy that couldn’t be shaken. Chanel defined women’s fashion for the modern world. She was quoted before death saying, “Without stone above me, I would want to leave if I had the wish to go to heaven and dress the angels.” The power of her memory lives on through the brand.
Viard has once said the ghost of Chanel lives on through every inch of the couture house.
The ghost of Chanel is a hard thing to live up to; and that, in a way, has broken the brand. Designers believe that to keep Chanel eternal they must keep it the same. Lagerfeld has fought to keep the legacy alive and for more than 30 years, he has. The thing is the brand has now become stagnant. The shows mirror one another and sales decline. Chanel wouldn’t have wanted her brand to be the same, to never stray from her original designs. She was revolutionary. Time magazine once stated, “At 71 years old, Gabrielle Chanel brought more than style. A Revolution!” She would want the brand to push the limits; and, through fashion, continue to push social progress.
If Virginie Viard takes over Chanel, one thing is known: With the guidance from Lagerfeld and her own talent, the brand could explode for a new generation. As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and there is no better case of that than with Viard and Lagerfeld. With years of teaching from a legend like Karl and the ghost of Chanel flowing through every stitch, Viard could begin Chanel’s next revolution. Now, if the brand is truly ready for a shakeup, will Virginie Viard be stepping out from behind the curtain to revolt against the fashion of today?