Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

What does a Chanel without Karl Lagerfeld look like?

The creative director has been an inexorable part of the fashion house for the last 36 years, so what happens next?

Karl Lagerfeld with model Stella Tennant during Chanel's Metiers D'Art Show in 2011.Reuters
Karl Lagerfeld with model Stella Tennant during Chanel's Metiers D'Art Show in 2011.Reuters

The fates of Karl Lagerfeld and the house of Chanel have been interlinked since the German designer arrived at the maison in 1983.

Designing over eight collections a year for the house, it was Lagerfeld's drive, vision and unflagging work ethic that propelled it from a noted but stuffy brand beloved by the middle-aged to a global fashion powerhouse.

When Lagerfeld arrived at Chanel in 1983, he stepped into a company that had lost its way following the death of its founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1971. Bereft of its figurehead and innovator, the company was adrift and struggling to regain its identity - to the point that Lagerfeld was advised against taking on the role of creative director when it was offered.

Luckily, he did accept and, armed with drive and passion, brought a much needed injection of flair and energy to the studio on Rue de Cambon. Driven by the avant garde spirit of Gabrielle Chanel before she became famous, Lagerfeld channelled her fresh approach to push the company forward into a new era.

Rather than rehashing her later work, Lagerfeld turned to Chanel's early designs, and built on her sense of androgynous chic, rethinking her costume jewellery and famous tweeds for a new audience. And now it is time for the mantle to be passed on to someone new.

In 2017, The National interviewed Chanel's head of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky. When quizzed on how Chanel would fare without Lagerfeld, he was deeply respectful but adamant that the show would go on. "Today, it is Mr Lagerfeld. He is still active and very inspired. It is always amazing to see the sketches for the next haute couture collection.

"He is a genius. No doubt about that. Think of the work he has done over the past 30 years. He has made the brand strong, he has been able to clarify the direction of the brand, to reinterpret the cult of the brand and to push the brand for the future. So today Chanel is like a jewel, like a diamond. Everything is ready for the future.”

Karl Lagerfeld was rarely seen without gloves on (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
Karl Lagerfeld at the end of his autumn / winter 2013 show for Chanel. AP

As precious as a gem, everything is in place to ensure Chanel will continue to shine, was the message.

At Chanel’s most recent haute couture show in Paris, Lagerfeld was not present for his traditional end of show bow. At the time, the house announced by tanoy that: "Mr Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who was feeling tired, asked Virginie Viard, director of the creative studio of the house, to represent him."

In the post-show notes distributed by Chanel, much was made of Viard's role at the house, and how all decisions were made by her and Lagerfeld, together.

French fashion studio director Virginie Viard and Karl Lagerfeld pose after the presentation of Chanel Spring/Summer 2019 ready-to-wear fashion collection in Paris. AP
Virginie Viard, pictured with Karl Lagerfeld after the Chanel spring / summer 2019 show, will create the house's upcoming collections. AP

Although Chanel always pays its respects to the behind-the-scenes team that pulls off the incredible feat that is haute couture, the inclusion of Viard's name next to Lagerfeld’s was a first, and a sign of things to come.

Chanel has now announced that Viard “has been entrusted with the creative work for the collections, so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on".

Having worked alongside Lagerfeld for most of his 30-plus years at Chanel, Viard is a safe pair of hands. And just as the house was able to survive the passing of its founder, so too will it be able to thrive under Viard’s stewardship.

Updated: February 20, 2019 09:29 AM

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