Chanel Designer Steps Down

In yet another seismic shift in the fashion world, Chanel announced on Wednesday that Virginie Viard, Karl Lagerfeld’s handpicked successor, was leaving the fashion house after five years as its artistic director — years in which, though her collections received a critical drubbing and speculation was rife about her possible departure, sales exploded, reaching almost $20 billion in 2023.

In a brief statement, Chanel, the second largest luxury brand in the world, thanked Ms. Viard for almost 30 years of service, “during which she was able to renew the codes of the house while respecting the creative heritage of Chanel.” No new designer was announced.

Ms. Viard, 62, assumed the artistic director role at a precarious moment, following the death of Mr. Lagerfeld, who had led the brand for more than 35 years, in 2019.

An unassuming presence who avoided the spotlight, Ms. Viard had worked side by side with Mr. Lagerfeld for decades and been his choice for a successor. He described her as both his left and right arm, and her appointment brought a sense of continuity to a house Mr. Lagerfeld had long dominated.

But despite annual revenues rising to $19.7 billion under her tenure — a 16 percent increase over the previous year — Ms. Viard seemed more like a caretaker designer for the storied house than a change agent like her mentor, Mr. Lagerfeld. She toned down the runway theatrics he was known for, but her efforts to make Chanel feel younger often fell flat. Her runway signatures included bow ties, various kinds of shorts and a fondness for 1980s silhouettes.

Ms. Viard’s departure comes just one month after Chanel’s cruise show, held on a bleak rainy day in Marseille, with guests including Lily-Rose Depp, Marion Cotillard, Sadie Sink and Tessa Thompson. It also follows a shake-up at Valentino, where the house’s longtime creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli was replaced by the former Gucci designer Alessandro Michele in March, and comes in the wake of rumors that Hedi Slimane will soon be departing his post at Celine.

Not surprisingly, almost as soon as Ms. Viard’s departure was announced, speculation began that either Mr. Slimane or Mr. Piccioli might replace her.

“A new creative organization will be announced in due course,” a representative for Chanel said in a brief statement.

The next Chanel runway show, its couture presentation in Paris in June, will continue as planned.

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