Who Should Replace Virginie Viard at Chanel (Because Someone Needs to)

by Charles Manning

OK. Enough is enough. It is time for a new creative director at Chanel. There, I said it. Virginie Viard was Karl Lagerfeld’s right hand at the brand for decades, so she certainly earned the right to take her shot at the top spot after his death a year ago. But what she has done with that shot, especially this season, feels like a pale imitation of what the house was doing under Lagerfeld and it’s time to move on.

Just look at this stuff! Could these dresses be any less flattering? Especially that green one! What is that? Why does anyone need that from Chanel (or from anyone else for that matter)? And the black one with the white lace shirt underneath looks like overgrown (and overwrought) children’s wear, especially when pared with those white stockings and swashbuckling boots. The boots, by the way, were shown with every single look, which feels like a tragic misstep from a brand that does such a roaring business in shoes.

And how could you do this to Kaia Gerber? This dress is ill-fitting, unflattering, boring, and, honestly, just looks cheap. 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.

Chanel Fall 2020 (IMAxTree)

Speaking of things that are unflattering, what is up with these pants? I love a loose, free-flowing trouser as much as the next person, but these are just plain dumpy. And worst of all, she showed a version of them with like, half the looks in the collection. This was Viard’s pant. Her only pant. She had one idea for pants and then proceeded to just beat everyone over the head with it.

And can we talk about these weird little neck ties? The one tucked under that tweed tube top is particularly groan-inducing! It’s just trying so hard. To do what, I have no idea, but a concerted effort is certainly being made.

And what is up with this sweater? It looks like the fast-fashion version of that iconic Christian Lacroix jacket worn on the cover of Anna Wintour’s first issue of American Vogue. I hate using the word “iconic,” but that look was ICONIC. You can’t just slap some interlocking Cs on it and call it your own. Nor should you want to. It was a moment in time. A great moment, but a moment that has certainly passed.

Now, in the spirit of brutal honesty, I feel I have to say that I was never really a fan of Karl Lagerfeld’s ready-to-wear at Chanel either. I know, I know, BLASPHEMY! But hear me out: it was never the runway pieces that anyone actually cared about; it was the accessories, the jewelry, the bags, the shoes, the novelty surf boards and basketballs, and, of course, the classic tweed jackets and suits, which never really changed all that much from season to season anyway. And, of course, there was the grand pageantry and spectacle of it all —  Karl was an absolute genius at that. His shows were an event! Even if the clothes were meh, the show was always a wonder.

And not for nothing, but Fendi without Lagerfeld is still freaking gorgeous. Like, did you see the Fall 2020 show? It was absolutely stunning and one of the highlights of Milan Fashion Week. But Chanel without Lagerfeld is just sad. All the drama and fantasy seem to have been drained out and all that’s left are a bunch of ill-fitting tweed sacks.

All of which brings us to the question of who should ultimately replace Virginie Viard at Chanel, because, like the title of this post says, someone needs to. Now, back when Lagerfeld first died, rumor had it that Phoebe Philo was going to take over, which seemed like an absolutely magnificent idea to just about everyone. Unfortunately, it seems Philo was unavailable at the time (the rumor as to why that was is something I’m not comfortable writing about) and now she’s starting her own thing, so it’s too late anyway.

Phoebe Philo (PMC)

Personally, I would love to see a woman at the helm of Chanel. I’m a big fan of what Natacha Ramsay-Levi has done at Chloé and would be interested to see what she did with a bigger budget and more support at Chanel. And I absolutely adore Simone Rocha. Her designs are so romantic and thoughtful. There is an intimacy to her work that feels quite the opposite of Lagerfeld at Chanel, but I feel confident that she could still create some truly gorgeous clothes and bring back some of the whimsy that has been lost under Viard.

If it were going to be a man, I would want it to be a real showman, like Marc Jacobs or Olivier Rousteing. Not that I always love everything they do (I’ve really been struggling with Balmain these last few seasons) but they certainly understand the idea of fashion as spectacle, which was such a huge part of Chanel’s success under Lagerfeld.

Back in the day, people used to like to say that Lagerfeld was grooming Hedi Slimane or Haider Ackermann to succeed him at Chanel. Slimane has zero reverence for house codes and would probably abolish tweed altogether if her got the job, so I don’t think that would ever happen. And as much as I love what Ackermann does, it is very specific and I wonder if he would bring enough variety and grandeur to Chanel to really make a go of it.

If Pierpaolo Piccioli wanted to leave Valentino, that could be cool. What he has created at that brand since shedding Maria Grazia Chiuri has been both visually stunning and extremely commercially successful, an essential combination for anyone looking for fill Lagerfeld’s shoes.

Should we bring Alber Elbaz into the conversation (although, like Philo, he is working on launching his own brand at the moment)? What about Jean Paul Gaultier? I loved what he did at Hermès.

Then again, maybe Chanel will choose someone unknown – someone who is not already a star but, with the right support and encouragement, could become the next Alessandro Michele, Clare Waight Keller, Daniel Lee, or Nicolas Ghesquière. Whatever they do, they need to do it soon. Please. Because what is happening at Chanel right now is just plain sad and it needs to stop.

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Melody Lesser March 4, 2020 - 8:26 PM

It pains me deeply, but I agree with you. I am a fan of Karl’s, an admirer, tbh. Viard’s collection looked to me like a poor imitation of Lagerfeld, devoid of character, creativity, and uniqueness. Karl, even when he missed, left his indelible signature on each creation. Viard’s collection is just blah. It made me sad.

George Wayne March 5, 2020 - 5:50 PM

I love this thorough ‘clocking’! Well said. Truly astute criticism! And you are beyond on point with the emphatic statement that
Chanel is beyond reductive in its current state! #GWsays!

Serra October 27, 2021 - 1:13 AM

I totally agree with you. And better sooner than later… with every new piece she creates I feel pain. I am a #Karl #Lagerfeld #Chanel fan and her runways have been a vehicle for a glimpse into a terrible emptiness and dread. #timetochange #missingLagerfeld


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