Succession

Chanel puts its faith & future in the master’s trusted disciple

di Giulia Crivelli


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4' di lettura

The death of Karl Lagerfeld almost seven months ago has left many people – and a cat, his beloved Choupette – feeling orphaned. The German designer died on 19 February in Paris: although he’d been known to be unwell for some time the news of his passing was still an unpleasant surprise, a shock even, in the world of fashion and luxury. What’s more, his friends, collaborators and colleagues - almost three generations of designers - have lost a father figure. Karl Lagerfeld would have turned 86 on 10 September and right until the end he remained creative director of Chanel, Fendi prêt-à-porter and the brand that bears his name. The list of orphans also includes all those who met him in various capacities or worked on one of his innumerable projects, which covered every sector contiguous to fashion from photography and art to books and collecting.

Orphans, too, are all of the customers of the labels for which he was working or had worked: the list is very long, from Hogan for a capsule collection of sneakers and bags to H&M for one of the Swedish giant’s first designer collections. Outside of fashion, also memorable were the collections or special editions designed for Faber Castell (writing and drawing instruments), Christofle, Opel and countless others. For Karl Lagerfeld it seems that the word “work” had a different meaning. Of course he worked hard, at least 16 hours a day, with Mediterranean passion and Teutonic discipline, and perhaps he even worked during the few hours that he slept, dreaming of collections which he would design or rework, sooner or later, when he woke. The saying attributed to Confucius and often repeated by Lev Tolstoy seemed to have been written specifically for Lagerfeld: choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Over these seven months most of his orphans have had time to mourn and, as is only too natural, his memory has begun to fade. One almost certain exception is Choupette, for whom it is thought Lagerfeld left behind a legacy worth millions; the designer was of the belief that cats are far more spiritually complex than we are led to believe. In the human world, the orphans of the creations for Fendi and the Karl Lagerfeld brand can sleep peacefully at night. Silvia Venturini Fendi, who the designer first met when she was a child and with whom he collaborated for decades, has taken on his legacy in the most seamless of ways. As for the Karl Lagerfeld label, which has a younger target and is positioned in the accessible luxury segment, the designer’s spirit will continue to be honoured by designer Carine Roitfeld, friend, muse and fashion communications and marketing genius. However, there is one person who inevitably felt orphaned by Lagerfeld’s death but didn’t have the luxury of being able to mourn him: Virginie Viard, the designer’s right-hand woman for almost 30 years at Chanel. Only those in the industry and fashion experts, some of whom journalists, knew of her existence. Virginie shared Lagerfeld’s dedication to the fashion house founded by Gabrielle Chanel and, like her mentor, almost certainly does not consider the days spent at the label as “work”. Her first real public appearance was at the end of the high fashion show in January: a few minutes before the models took to the catwalk a communication of a few lines was released to explain that Lagerfeld would not be appearing at the end of the show due to tiredness and that receiving the applause in his stead would be Virginie.

From this point on and for the following month, given Lagerfeld’s ailing health, the designer had to focus on the prêt-à-porter collection that was later presented in early March, on the cruise and on high fashion. October will bring the next test: all kinds of disrespectful rumours have been circulating ever since Lagerfeld’s death: Chanel will be sold; Virginie will be replaced or flanked by a more experienced designer; sales will fall, we’ve come to the end of an era. Perhaps only these last words are worth sharing: a chapter has closed in the history of Chanel. As Leonardo da Vinci taught us, Virginie is a disciple who is perfectly able to take on the mantle of the master and begin a new era for the fashion house, something she will do with the utmost respect. But she will also leave her own mark, as Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel, has underlined in recent interviews.

Virginie has her own character and personality, and is a woman: her vision of femininity will have different nuances compared to that of her mentor. She will certainly contribute to the sustainability of the label, which in 2019 announced that it will no longer use crocodile leather, for example. She will manage the move to the futuristic new Chanel headquarters in the outskirts of Paris designed by archistar Rudy Ricciotti. And between one commitment and another, one challenge and the next, sooner or later she will have to process Lagerfeld’s death. In her, Pavlovsky and many others, Karl’s memory will never fade.

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