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Not long after Karl Lagerdeld’s passing, Virginie Viard, also known as the late fashion icon’s “right-hand”, was announced as his successor on Instagram. The social post reads: “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.”
Of course, one must go beyond being a follower and make a name for themselves. Viard attempts to do just that – whether or not she is doing so successfully, however, is up for debate.
Virginie has, in essence, everything she needs to excel in the role. At Chanel, she started as an intern and quickly rose through the ranks and became the fashion studio director where she was responsible for overseeing eight collections each year. In all, she has more than enough experience for the role.
Since becoming the creative director, Viard has now overseen eight collections for the brand. Her first was Resort 2020 at the Grand Palais and her most recent show was Pre-Fall 2021 at the Château de Chenonceau in which Kristen Stewart was the only audience member. The reviews of her collections, however, have been mixed.
An example of a heavily critiqued show of Viard’s was the Fall 2020 Ready-To-Wear collection. Among the critiques is the unnecessary repetition of items various times throughout the collection. For example, the Jodhpur black pants with studs on the sides were shown more than ten times throughout the collection, and the black and brown riding boots were seen in literally every single look down the runway (except for Viard’s own outfit at the end, but I’m sure that doesn’t count).
The fit was another critical issue. According to fashion experts, the silhouettes seem ill-fitting and boring. Not even the world’s most famous models in the world made these dresses incredible. Kaia Gerber, for example, the daughter of model legend Cindy Crawford, wore an off-the-shoulder puff sleeve black dress that made her look sloppy and rather unpolished. For Charles Manning from The Fashion Daily Weekly, “If you told me it was made by a first year design student on a budget who used to work at Hot Topic, I’d believe you.”
There is, however, hope in Viard’s design. The exact same dress was worn by Brazilian actress Bruna Marquezine and caused shockwaves across the country. Perhaps only the styling and tailoring of the runway’s dress was what made it questionable.
Vaird’s overall taste has also come into question. In her Pre-Fall 2021 show, also known as Métiers d’Art, most models strutted down the runway with leggings underneath each look. From bright blue to light pink, the leggings varied in color but were the same in overall effect: somewhat confusing and off-putting.
For Fashionista’s Tyler McCall, “the look has been a mainstay of the modest fashion community for years, but in these fabrics, it does also bring to mind visions of mid-aughts mistakes involving Abercrombie micro-mini denim skirts and Ugg boots.” All of us probably have that one picture in leggings and shorts when we were younger and always cringe when looking at it — why would someone think about bringing this trend back?
Criticisms toward Viard, however, go far beyond the clothes. For Lagerfeld, producing a runway show was a visual adventure and nothing (really, nothing) felt out of reach. From a fake supermarket with Chanel-labeled goods to a man-made beach to a real rocket ship that took off at the end of the show, witnessing a Chanel runway show was a spectacle for fashion connoisseurs or non-fashionistas alike. Viard’s rendition of this Lagerfeld experiential set design has also fallen short.
In the Spring-Summer 2020 runway show, Viard replicated Parisian rooftops. Lagerfeld’s sets brought the clothes to life but Viard’s rooftops merely brought the luxury pieces into normalcy. The same can be said for Viard’s Spring-Summer 2020 Haute Couture show in Paris that included making a cloister garden in the nave of the Grand Palais. Though the brand’s caption of the set explains that it evokes “key places in Gabrielle Chanel’s childhood — the ancient Cistercian Abbey of Aubazine,” this set design once again feels safe and flat compared to Lagerfeld’s outrageous ideas. After all, if people used to attend the shows for the clothes and the experience, are either still present in Viard’s collections?
Finally, one last criticism of Viard’s leadership has been in her response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Viard launched the Resort 2021 collection in the midst of the lockdown and, therefore, had to cancel any live events and release the collection through online photos. Though Viard did publicly discuss the sustainability of this collection, such as using recycled fabrics and creating more “transformative” pieces, The New York Times claims the reverie-themed, idyllic setting felt insensitive to the audience.
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Among tragic deaths worldwide and the Black Lives Matter protests across the world, it seemed odd to release pictures of Chanel models sun-kissed with tweeting birds and crashing waves. Though this can be largely understood because of the surprise of the pandemic and the improvisations companies and people had to make on the spot, fashion experts questioned why this collection wasn’t redone, delayed or just cancelled as a whole.
With all that said, Virginie Viard is definitely not having an easy start to her role as the Creative Director of Chanel. From the collections to her artistic vision for the shows, Viard’s leadership has been the target of heavy backlash and criticism. I’ll take a moment here, however, to ask if anyone would have done a flawless job in this role. The truth is that Karl Lagerfeld is, by all means, a memorable fashion icon that led the fashion house for over 36 years and decidedly made modern Chanel what it is today. Would anyone be able to fill his shoes without criticism? We don’t think so.