“Chanel is like a second home and family to me,” says Amanda Sanchez. This is no PR fluff or pomp – Sanchez is the maison’s long-running in-house fit model, a position she’s held since 2001.
For the uninitiated, a fit model is a live mannequin so to speak, though not in the conventional sense a la runway models. Instead, they endure long hours of being measured, pinned and prodded so that designers and technicians can fine-tune a garment’s proportions for customers.
Is an armhole cut too high? Is the crotch too tight? These are just some of the questions asked of fit models. Their role is never simply about standing passively during the fitting; designers expect highly specified feedback in return. After all, a big part of the luxury fashion business is attention to detail to guarantee comfort. A piece that doesn’t take into account such vital technical considerations would no doubt hurt the brand (and bottom line).
This also means that Sanchez – an enigmatic dark-maned beauty with long, elegant features – is in a unique position. While she may not have the high visibility of, say, house ambassadors such as Lily-Rose Depp or Kristen Stewart, she is possibly the ultimate avatar for Chanel. If you stop to think about it, the Brazilian native has a more intimate connection to the legions of Chanel faithful than most, what with every single look in every single collection fitted on her frame since the early ’00s.
Arriving in Paris in 2001 to find work as a model, she had answered a Chanel casting call for a haute couture fitting (the baby pink- suffused S/S ’02 collection, as it turned out) and was promptly told by Karl Lagerfeld himself that she had all the right proportions.
Fit models – known to enjoy long tenures with brands – largely remain behind the scenes, but Sanchez breaks the mould having also walked repeatedly in Chanel’s runway shows. (How many exactly? “Too many times over the years to keep count,” she lets on with a sheepish laugh.)
In person – or rather, over Zoom – her fresh, seemingly makeup-free face, casual get-up
(a Breton top) and easy disposition belies her age (going by reports, it’s 40). Her nearly two-decade-long career with Chanel has seen her growing up quite literally with the house through plenty of milestones such as the birth of her son, Louis Maillot, now 14.
Ask about her favourite memories from her time with the brand and she replies with an easy candour: “I think the most important ones are still what I experience day to day; the relationships I have with the women artisans, Virginie (Viard) and the creative team… They really know everything about my life and that’s something I cherish.”
On hindsight, it was perhaps not unsurprising an answer. After all, how does one condense nearly 20 years into a handful of sound bites? Yet her answer also provides an insider look at how the luxury giant operates. For all of Chanel’s size and influence, the idea of family is an integral part of its lexicon.
Take for example how in an age of outsized conglomerates, it’s one of the very few mega brands that continue to be family-owned. Its guardians hold some of the lengthiest tenures in fashion – Lagerfeld helmed the brand for 36 years and when the time came to anoint his successor, the brand could have had its pick, but chose to believe in Virginie Viard, his publicity-shy right-hand woman who worked closely beside him for more than 30 years.
Such idiosyncratic moves diverge from the musical chairs system that’s become the 2010s industry standard where artistic directors come and go within an average of three years. Coco Chanel – always one to follow her own rules and beliefs – would approve.
Of course, that’s not to say that the brand is inured to change. It just does so at its own pace. It’s been just over a year since Viard took over the reins and slowly yet surely, her touch has been seeping in.
While Sanchez rebuffs questions about comparing Viard’s work to that of Lagerfeld, she recognises that Chanel is changing bit by bit. “Virginie’s a woman creating clothes for fellow women – she knows what we want to wear and what she herself wants to wear,” she says. “One should find her collections very feminine. Virginie has her own touch, but she also likes to play with the house codes. What I can say is that she has a very natural way of working.”
While Viard’s shows are less flashy spectacles than her predecessor’s, her measured approach can be said to hew closer in essence to Coco Chanel’s original philosophy of streamlining and modernising womenswear. It’s not an insignificant fact that Viard is the first woman to be in charge of Chanel since the brand’s iconic founder.
One could also say that it’s a spirit similarly embodied in its ultimate model. Sanchez’s journey – from young aspiring model from Sao Paolo to favourite clotheshorse of the most Parisian of luxury fashion houses – finds an echo in Coco Chanel’s own story of a girl from rural France becoming the most famous fashion designer in history. How about that for a good fit? Here, excerpts from our exclusive with Sanchez on growing up with Chanel.
Photography David Paige, assisted by Cyprien Bourrec Styling Assistant San Wen Hair & Makeup Mehdi R’Guiba, using Chanel Production Yellow Films Paris
This article first appeared in the July 2020 Perennial Edition of FEMALE.