This has been applauded as Karl Lagerfeld’s last designs for Chanel, but the house announced that it is “a collection by Karl Lagerfeld and Virginie Viard”. This could be the first official acknowledgement of Ms Viard’s involvement in the design process, not merely to execute what Mr Lagerfeld had sketched. That Ms Viard ‘officially’ shares the honour could indicate that Mr Lagerfeld may have been too ill to finish the collection or that this is the time to get Chanel fans used to the name of the unknown designer taking the place of Mr Lagerfeld.
On the whole, the collection looks typically and joyfully Karl Lagerfeld. He had pushed the house codes to such an extent that even those who had bought Chanel suits before Mr Lagerfeld took over the reigns in 1983 won’t today immediately recognise them. And the old silhouette, too, had so dramatically changed that this really had become Karl Lagerfeld as Gabrielle Chanel than merely a re-imagining of what Coco had dreamed up. But upon closer look at the autumn winter 2019 collection, there is suspicion that Virginie Viard’s hand was at work.
Sure, Mr Lagerfeld’s sense of glamour and tres coordinated chic are all there, including his jacket shapes—frequently boxy and, just as often, sportif— and their renown lightness, as well as his fondness for a certain way with lapels—cut away and graphic, triangular fold-downs. There are the relaxed pantsuits, pulled together with a certain slouch. There are also the pairing of skirts over pants (now the capri), sheer tops over white shirts, and dresses for getting dolled up. And the details: the double-breasted, the frayed tweed to form a short fringe, and yet more ways to trim the Chanel jacket. Nothing is casual, nothing is effortless, nothing is not calculated.
Yet, despite what social media has called a “very Karl” collection, there are other touches that seem inconsistent with the man who ruled Chanel for 36 years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are surprised to find a jacket with contrast sleeves and a coat with contrast yoke; outers that wrap like a blanket or, one—a twofer with slanted shoulders and a rather cocoon effect; even a boilersuit with a low waist. Could these be the touches or ideas of Virginie Viard? We many never know. But it is likely that the Wertheimer family, owner of Chanel, want an unbroken succession and her expressly stated involvement now will lessen potential disruptions moving forward.
The setting may be alpine, but these are not ski wear. Hard, in fact, to imagine them on a ski lift. For sure, they’d be worn up in the mountain, to a winter lodge, but dressing up is more likely for the apres-ski parties known to dominate the winter resorts that the show set—typically not modest— is based on (Chalet Gardenia! Mr Lagerfeld must have had immense fun thinking of such names). These are clothes the one percent (or wives of) will wear to St Moritz. For the rest, there is always the red jumper with the double Cs just below the neck—logo placements undoubtedly Mr Lagerfeld’s forte.
No one can say for sure what path, snow covered or not, Chanel will henceforth take. Karl Lagerfeld is so synonymous with Chanel that it is hard to imagine the latter without the former. But, for certain, those tweeds will live on, so will the countless bags already sold and shall be. The until-now-unknown name Virginie Viard will be very much watched. She has very large shoes to fill, even if they are two-tone pumps.