Written By:

As Virginie Viard announces her departure from the helm of Chanel, we look back on 10 defining moments of her career.


Choo-choo! It was the sound of the Chanel express pulling into the Palais-Royal in Paris. And for the first time in 35 years, the loco pilot was not Monsieur Karl Lagerfeld. For her first collection as the creative director of the French fashion house, Virginie Viard decided to take the cruise tour to its home. Perhaps a way of grounding the new chapter and reassuring all us Chanel superfans that everything was alright. But in fact, things weren’t just alright – they were absolutely stunning.


Chanel’s Virginie Viard had Jean Cocteau on her mind when she designed her striking, monochrome cruise 21/22 collection. She filmed it at Les Baux-de-Provence, the soaring limestone quarry turned arts venue, the Carrières de Lumières, where Cocteau shot his 1960 black and white masterpiece, *The Testament of Orpheus*. Like poetry in motion, Viard’s models strode through the monumental white stone space, bathed in golden springtime sun. “The simplicity, the precision and the poetry of Cocteau’s film made me want to create a very clean collection, with a very distinct two-tone, made up of bright white and deep black,” said the designer. This collection was about perfect pieces – a long, billowing white shirt dress, a cropped white tweed jacket embroidered with Coco’s lucky charms, or a swingy LBD with a matching cape.


Tweed: it is the timeless heart of Chanel. Virginie Viard dedicated her whole AW22 show to the fabric, presenting her collection inside a tweed arena, where the walls, floor and seats were covered in the stuff. Gabrielle Chanel had first come across it in the 1920s, on hunting weekends with her lover, the Duke of Westminster. She adopted the country fabric, instructing her artisans in Paris to create sophisticated city versions which she then used for her iconic suits. Tweed became the emblematic Chanel fabric and the tweed jacket is an icon of the house.


When Chanel showed its Métiers D’art collection in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, it was a historic moment not just for Chanel but for European luxury fashion. The Métiers d’art collection paid tribute to fashion savoir-faire, shining a light on the skills of artisans at the small specialist houses that came under Chanel’s 19M umbrella. Among them Lemarié for feathers and flowers, Goossens for jewelry, Lesage for embroidery, Maison Michele for millinery. Together they made Viard’s Chanel vision a beautifully crafted reality. The seventies, which she described as a decade of “fascinating freedom,” was a touchstone for flared, tweed trouser suits, geometric, beaded vests, and wrap skirts layered over trousers and vivid knits where leopard and camellias patterns collided.


It was a picture-perfect postcard from Paris: a Chanel show staged on the bank of the Seine with all the bourgeois chic, flower baskets, and impeccably groomed dogs a Parisienne could dream of. As guests made their way to the river by the Pont des Invalides, we were met by bouquinistes and pictures of Vanessa Paradis. She played muse to Virginie Viard’s decidedly Parisian haute couture show, which celebrated the culture of the French capital, the women who inhabit it, and their Chanel-centric wardrobes.


Can a global fashion mega-brand cross-pollinate with music and film? Chanel went there and did that, prefacing its SS24 couture show with a Dave Free-directed mini-movie, starring house face Margaret Qualley, (with a cameo from Naomi Campbell) and scored by the multi-talented Kendrick Lamar, who also soundtracked the show.


This was not your grandmother’s Chanel. But this was what Chanel looked like now. We took a closer look at a gorgeous woman in a gold jacket, black bikini top, and blue jeans, sipping date-night cocktails with her husband… wasn’t that Margot Robbie? And wait, the blonde in the light pink knit mini dress? Paris Hilton. Marion Cotillard was chatting on the bleachers, and Lucy Boynton was catching up with friends. Chanel had come to Hollywood and gone full Cali-girl. Not so much Chanel 2.0 as Chanel 90210.


For AW24, Viard took us to Deauville, the seaside resort town where Coco opened her first shop in 1912. But as an amuse-bouche, she treated us to a new cinematic pairing: Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt (as a new Chanel love interest) who played out a flirtatious encounter (with excellent chemistry), projected onto a vast central cyclorama. With love in the air, the scene was set for a show that thrilled with easy, sensual looks, designed for the kind of nonchalant-but-notice-me effect that Viard specialised in.


Viard’s Métiers d’art show in Manchester was a love letter to craftsmanship, and she used all the firepower of Lesage embroidery and Lemarié flower work to drop in Mancunian references in unexpected forms: vinyl records embroidered in jet-black beading onto a cocktail dress, club flyer graphics reworked in intarsia knits.


“You couldn’t ask for a better backdrop to a runway show than the Cité radieuse,” said Chanel’s Virginie Viard of the venue for her cruise 24/25 collection. Her models defied Marseille’s mistral wind and rain, taking to the open-air performance space atop Le Corbusier’s masterpiece of utopian modernism. Viard knew that the Chanel girl coveted a great hoodie, and hers came elongated into mini dresses and with gleaming front pockets embroidered with colorful grid motifs inspired by the modernist architecture.

Photography courtesy of Chanel.