Dear Virginie, I’ve a confession: I teared up rather inexplicably as you made your way down the runway at the end of the Chanel Cruise 2020 show in May. It was the reveal of your first solo collection since Karl Lagerfeld’s passing and the announcement that you would be his successor, the artistic director of the house, three months earlier. I’ve since attributed my emotions to how – even though we’ve never met – I’ve always assumed that taking on the role must be frightening for you. That in turn makes that bow (or in your case, a shy pause in your step accompanied by a small, radiant smile) moving, to say the least.
As Vanessa Paradis tells the French documentary maker Loic Prigent in his short film about the collection and its making of, available for viewing on Youtube, post-show: “I understand the billions of conflicting emotions she must have felt. Virginie is of great discretion and great humility.”
She should know you well, having been a Chanel ambassador since 1990 – just a couple of years after you had joined as an intern in 1987. (You’d progress onto coordinator of haute couture and then eventually studio director, working side by side Lagerfeld and his muses every step of the way. Even when he was at Chloe for five years in the ’90s, he made sure you went along with him).
This magazine also had the rare opportunity of speaking with you when Chanel staged its Cruise 2014 show in Singapore. In that conversation, you made it clear the close, almost father-daughter bond that you had with Lagerfeld. You shared that you saw him more than you did your own family and that everything you knew, you had learnt from him. You also said that you could not see yourself taking over in part because it was not what you wanted to do, and that you hated the spotlight. (Up till press time, there have been no official interviews with you following your appointment.)
Yet here you are, tasked to fill the shoes of your mentor – one of this century’s most famous and high-powered fashion designers – to lead one of this millennium’s most famous and high-powered fashion houses. That many point out that you’re also the first woman at the helm of Chanel since its spitfire founder is another pressure, I’d imagine, someone like you – unassuming and down-to-earth – would prefer to do without.