The Electric Relevance of Virginie Viard’s Chanel

As I observed the latest Chanel collection from the comfort of my bed this morning, I found myself marveling at the power of its relevance. Perhaps it seems ironic to ascribe the word “relevant” to a $10 billion-dollar brand that has maintained one of the most renowned fashion legacies in history, but there is a different tenor to its influence under the creative direction of Virginie Viard, who filled Karl Lagerfeld’s very large shoes when he passed away a year ago.

If Lagerfeld’s talent was building an aspirational brand universe (replete with huge collections, elaborate show sets, and a personality of his own to match), Viard’s is defining an inspirational aesthetic to fill it with. What her six collections have lacked in mock grocery stores stocked with Chanel-branded milk or feminist protests helmed by Cara Delevingne, they have made up for with innovative styling suggestions and nascent micro-trends that leave just enough room for the individual wearer’s interpretation.

The Fall/Winter 2020 collection that debuted today is an apt encapsulation of this special savvy. After clicking through it, I found myself utterly charmed by the luxury treatment of tear-away pants–a former staple of early aughts-era boy bands that, thanks to Viard, are now primed for a very different kind of comeback. Ditto for the combination of a mini skirt and mid-shin-length coat, simple in theory but compelling enough to remind me how the right proportions can electrify an entire outfit. I also spent at least 15 minutes considering where and when I could wear shorts with polka-dot tights and knee-high boots (to the office tomorrow?) or a bandeau top layered over a neck scarf (dinner on Saturday night?).

In an impressively short period of time, Viard’s reign at Chanel has lent the brand a renewed sense of urgency–sparking the desire to do more than just admire, but also to take tangible action: to participate, to recreate. The effect is a democratizing one because to participate in Viard’s Chanel isn’t necessarily to buy into it. Even her couture collections (in theory a hallmark of astronomical expense and technical mastery) have managed to shed light on the possibilities contained in an everyday wardrobe.

To this point, there is something enigmatic about the way she designs: in conversation with the zeitgeist and yet never dictated by it. In homage to beauty and yet not at the expense of a clear commercial strategy. In continuity with Lagerfeld’s legacy and yet distinguished by something else entirely--a real feminine energy that injects practicality into the brand’s well-established elegance, bringing it back to reality while still letting it hover slightly above the ground.

Photos via Vogue Runway and Getty Images.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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