“Virginie is a punk rocker.”
Virginie Viard has started a new chapter in Chanel’s history, invariably working with the same book. Since the passing of her predecessor, Karl Lagerfeld—a man whose fame comes close to that of the eponymous founder—the 58-year-old creative director has not deviated from the aesthetic that helped turn the fabled fashion house into a $100 billion company. In fact, she’s worked for no one else, starting her career as a Chanel intern and working her way up to become Lagerfeld’s design director, his virtual right hand throughout the decades. She, perhaps more than most, understood his process, the look he wanted to create and the messages he wanted to convey.
Her debut collection for the resort 2020 season maintained the ethos of the storied house: bouclé suits, sharply tailored gauzy dresses, shirts with pronounced collars, and appliqués with the brand’s signatures, including camellias and bows. She has since adhered to the same motifs with every presentation, while simultaneously adding a fresh dimension—i.e., tie-dye prints for pre-fall 2020 and penny loafers with chunky socks for spring 2020 couture—to every show.
Indeed, the parallels between Viard’s and Lagerfeld’s design aesthetics are abundant—but where they do differ drastically is in personality. Lagerfeld was a bon vivant, an open book, expressing his opinions candidly. He communicated what he liked and what he didn’t, and made no qualms about either. Viard, however, has kept tight-lipped, and, barring very brief cameos in documentaries about her mentor and taking a bow after every runway show, has remained behind closed doors.
Aside from being the creative head of one of the biggest luxury brands, who is Virginie Viard really? Who is the woman behind the title? Only those in the close-knit confines at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris, Chanel’s headquarters, are privy to those answers—one of whom is Kristen Stewart. “She’s so creative and she’s so herself that there has to be a certain layer of protection,” she said in a just-released video for the spring 2020 ready-to-wear campaign.
The actress has been a part of Chanel’s coterie since 2013, when she was picked by Lagerfeld and the marketing team at the company to be a brand ambassador, starring in numerous advertisements and attending runway shows regularly. For seven years, Stewart worked alongside Viard to make Lagerfeld’s vision a reality. “Virginie is someone that I’ve sort of grown up looking up to,” she said. “I’ve been a part of this creative umbrella, family for a really long time. And to know that she was going to be fully unbridled made me nervous and excited.”
Stewart, to be sure, is one of the few people who can pinpoint the slight variations between Lagerfeld and Viard, shining a light on her own unique attributes outside of her mentor’s shadow. And for Stewart, it is the ease Viard brings to every piece she designs, the light touch she imbues in the selection of frilly blouses, tiered skirts, and printed coats that sets them apart. “It feels impulsive and sporadic, and honest, and colorful,” she said. “It doesn’t seem rehearsed or performed. It seems very lived-in.”
Where Lagerfeld put forward a pristine, unadulterated Chanel look, Viard, in a considered way, untethered the uniform, vitalizing her collections with a more laid-back, on-the-go quality. “Virginie is a punk rocker,” Stewart said. “I genuinely feel kind of ignited by the clothes that she makes. The way that they’re worn allows for a sort of individualized experience. There is an originality and a sort of unique thing that she brings to just a room that she walks into [and] I feel that her clothes do the same thing.”