“The Final Word On Virginie Viard”

Virginie Viard, Photo Courtesy Karl Lagerfeld

It was a bumpy road for Virginie Viard. Her designs were the opposite of the uncomplicated modernity proposed by Coco. I didn’t realize how many agreed with me until a few days ago.

Chanel Fall 2024 Ready-to-Wear, Photo by Umberto Fratin

I found myself continually underwhelmed by her hit-and-miss efforts. Even with the complete endorsement of Karl and Alain Wertheimer, the billionaire co-owner of Chanel’s house, Viard could not hit her stride.

Chanel Fall 2019 Couture Photo-by Alessandro Lucioni for Gorunway.com

In my opinion, the few times Virginie had real success was with her Haute Couture Collections. Fall 2019 Couture was set in a library inspired by the one in Gabrielle Chanel’s daytime apartment on the Rue Cambon. It was chic, rigorously pared down, and it showed promise.

Fall 2020 Couture hit just the right note with a collection inspired by Lagerfeld’s eccentric “punk princesses.” Viard struck a balance between the “grand and casual.” The overall effect was luxurious yet youthful. Unfortunately, examples like these were few and far between. Only some designers will hit a home run every time (Karl assuredly did not), but the clinkers should not outweigh the high moments.

Chanel Fall 2024 Ready-to-Wear, Photo by Umberto Fratini for Gorunway.com

The windows of the Chanel store on 57th Street sometimes look like what you expect to see at Walmart. A certain taste level has consistently been absent from Viard’s work these past five years, and I’m baffled by her fondness for heavy, bulky fabrics. Viard’s most recent outing, for Fall 2024, looked especially irrelevant and unmodern; the ridiculous hats didn’t help.

Chanel Pre Fall 2023, Photo Courtesy of Chanel

Even the young models look frumpy in many of Viard’s designs, owing to their unflattering proportions, fussy details, ditsy prints, and puerile use of the CC logo and the camellia. Viard has a knack for reducing Chanel to the lowest common denominator.

Back in 2017, when a journalist for Madame Figaro asked Virginie what makes a “Chanel girl,” her reply was, “As I have always been a Chanel girl, I don’t know how to be anything else.” I thought that was a great response because you don’t become a “Chanel girl” by merely donning a tweed jacket, ropes of pearls, a gold chain purse, and cap-toe pumps. That would be far too simple.

Gabrielle Coco Chanel was far more than just her iconic house tropes. She was the most influential fashion icon of the twentieth century, the personification of a modern woman. It’s easy to create riffs on the signature Chanel house codes. What’s more challenging is to breathe new life into them, make them modern and relevant, AND make them alluring objects of desire, which Karl did so well.

Understandably, Virginie wanted to distance herself from the Lagerfeld era but she did not just remove the camp from the house. She removed the soul from the house. The original Chanel had passion and emotion, a sense of rebellion that went beyond camellias and tweed tailleurs. The new creative director, whoever that is, has to find a modern equivalent.

Marc Jacobs wears Chanel jacket and jewelry by Anna-Sui, Photo by Lieba Nesis

Marc Jacobs wanted the job that Karl eventually got. Marc is continually and unabashedly influenced by Chanel, especially Chanel in the ’80s when Karl first took over. In fact, Marc is known to carry Chanel bags and wear Chanel jackets.

Someone on the internet said that Marc was the perfect designer for Chanel because he has the necessary experience, a treasure trove of references, and is an artist who is always in the present. Marc’s finger is always on the pulse. He continues speaking to a young generation, and every collection he designs is relevant.

I discussed this with Ralph Rucci, who is more than qualified to have an informed opinion about the subject. While we agree that Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquiere, and Hedi Slimane are talented designers with proven experience, they don’t have a known relationship to the vigor and métier of Couture.

Neither does Miuccia Prada, whom Ralph refers to as “The Chanel of our generation” thanks to the way her “brilliant infusion of irregularity and juxtaposition in how we present ourselves has changed culture.”

Those who do have those specific qualifications are Sarah Burton and Haider Ackermann. So does John Galliano, but he has now ascended to Saint status after his last collection. Chanel would be a setback.

Pierpaolo Piccioli on the Spanish Steps after his Valentino Fall 2022 Haute Couture collection, Photo rain-mag.com

Pierpaolo Piccioli is the only person who has the experience to design, visualize, run a major couture atelier, and feed both the press and clients. Because Ralph and I are such good friends, he felt comfortable adding himself to that rarified list. Of course, I agree!

And so does longtime couture client Deeda Blair who told me, “I have a lot of Chanel in my closet and even more Ralph Rucci that I wear, and I’m always blissfully happy in it”

Latest Comments:

  1. Thank you for that RF….yes..it’s an ongoing complaint..and it is NOT about looking young..it’s about looking and feeling great and…

  2. So refreshing to see you aging gracefully and looking fabulous! Too many people fixated on looking young instead of appreciating…

  3. Hi Marilyn..”ABOUT TURNING 75″….You can add me to your almost 75 llist…Oct 29th of this year. I am so glad…

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. All one has to do is look at her to know that all you say so eloquently is true. Like Mark Jacobs, I have a 1983 Chanel rejection letter from Kitty de Alessio .

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