What Does Virginie Viard Leaving Chanel Mean for the Asian Luxury Consumer?

What Does Virginie Viard Leaving Chanel Mean for the Asian Luxury Consumer?

In a surprising turn of events, renowned French luxury fashion house, Chanel, has revealed the departure of its Creative Director, Virginie Viard. The announcement, which broke earlier this month on June 6th, has sparked widespread speculation about the successor, leaving many in anticipation of the next chapter for the esteemed brand.

In a statement shared with Forbes, the company said, “Chanel confirms the departure of Virginie Viard after a rich collaboration of five years as artistic director of fashion collections, during which she was able to renew the codes of the house while respecting the creative heritage of the brand.” It added, “A new chapter is opening for Chanel Mode. We are confident in the teams’ ability to ensure the continuity of the collections during this period of transition. A new creative organisation for the House will be announced in due course.”

The announcement comes on the heels of Chanel’s recent unveiling of its 2023 financial earnings, which showcased a robust growth across all product categories. The figures revealed a substantial uptick, with revenues reaching US$19.7 billion, marking a 16% surge compared to 2022 on a comparable basis at constant currency. Operating profit also saw a notable increase, reaching US$6.407 million, up by 10.9% from the previous year. Additionally, Chanel closed the year with a positive net cash balance, underscoring the brand’s exceptional performance and solid financial standing.

Founded by Coco Chanel in 1910, Chanel stands as a bastion of timeless elegance in the fashion world. Privately owned by French billionaire brothers Alain Wertheimer and Gerard Wertheimer, the esteemed label holds the distinction of being the world’s second-largest fashion house, trailing only behind LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, as reported by Reuters.

The announcement adds to a series of notable shifts within the fashion industry in recent years. In 2022, the industry was stunned by Alessandro Michele’s departure from Gucci, followed by his transition to Valentino where he replaced Pierpaolo Piccioli. Similarly, in 2023, British designer Sarah Burton made headlines by stepping down from Alexander McQueen, marking yet another significant change in the landscape of high fashion. These movements underscore the dynamic nature of the industry, as designers and creative leaders navigate new opportunities and challenges in pursuit of artistic expression and innovation.

So, what does this mean for luxury consumers in Asia – and what do they think?

Virginie Viard’s rise to fashion fame
Virginie Viard’s deep-rooted history with Chanel spans three decades, joining the house as an intern back in 1987. In 1992, her talents caught the eye of Karl Lagerfeld, who brought her with him to Chloé. However, it was her return to Chanel alongside Lagerfeld five years later that solidified her imprint on the brand. Following Lagerfeld’s passing in 2019, Viard assumed the role of artistic director. This trajectory highlights Viard’s enduring dedication to Chanel and her invaluable contributions to its creative vision over the years.

Throughout her tenure, Virginie Viard achieved several notable milestones that expanded Chanel’s reach and celebrated its heritage in innovative ways. One such milestone was the Métiers d’Arts show held in Dakar, marking Chanel’s inaugural fashion event in Africa. This groundbreaking showcase not only highlighted the brand’s commitment to cultural diversity but also honoured the rich artistic traditions of the continent.

Furthermore, Viard’s efforts extended beyond the runway, as she worked diligently to foster connections within the female community. Collaborations with Chanel ambassadors such as Margaret Qualley and Riley Keough exemplified her commitment to empowering women and showcasing their talents within the fashion industry. Through these initiatives, Viard is often credited for not only reinforced Chanel’s position as a global leader in luxury fashion but also championed inclusivity and female solidarity in the modern era.

PARIS, FRANCE – OCTOBER 05: A model walks the runway during the Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on October 5, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by SAVIKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE – OCTOBER 05: A model walks the runway during the Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2022 fashion show as part of the Paris Fashion Week on October 5, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by SAVIKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The reason for Virginie Viard’s departure
Despite persistent rumours swirling for years regarding the possibility of a new designer at Chanel, the company’s Chief Executive, Leena Nair, unequivocally dismissed such speculations last month, which is why the news came as such a shock, per sources. Nair had just recently emphasised Viard’s instrumental role in driving significant growth within Chanel’s ready-to-wear fashion segment, including a remarkable surge in ready-to-wear sales, which have more than doubled since 2018.

The departure of Viard aligns with a prevailing trend in the luxury fashion sector, where the replacement of creative directors aims to invigorate collections while upholding the brand’s heritage and aesthetic. Additionally, an artist’s exit often generates excitement and speculation around the brand, serving as a focal point of discussion and anticipation for its future direction.

How the industry reacted to Virginie Viard’s departure – and what it means for Asia
According to Forbes, China is the second-largest market for Chanel’s beauty business, following closely behind the United States.

In a 2023 interview with Vogue Business, Chanel’s CFO, Philippe Blondiaux said of China, “The Chinese consumers went back to their pre-Covid travelling patterns, which means that, while we’re still successful with our Chinese clientele, growth is happening outside of China to a very large extent, more in Europe and in Japan than in Mainland China.”

China will more than likely remain a key market for the future of Chanel.

Analysts and industry experts spoke to Vogue Business after the announcement of Viard’s departure. “Virginie Viard played an important role in continuing the heritage of Karl Lagerfeld. After an important chapter like the one of Karl Lagerfeld, abruptly interrupted by his death, it would have been difficult to start a chapter. Virginie Viard put into reality some of the ideas that Karl Lagerfeld didn’t have time to translate and gradually paved the way for a new chapter,” Mario Ortelli, managing partner of Ortelli & Co told Vogue Business.

Meanwhile, Erwan Rambourg, Global Head of Consumer and Retail Equity Research at HSBC noted how Viard’s success at the helm is evident when you look at the statistics. “The track record of the brand has been pretty phenomenal, if you look at the numbers. I don’t think Virginie Viard has done anything wrong. It’s just that you probably need some disruption after five years of continuity. In the current context, where the Chinese cluster is a question mark, the American consumer is very polarised, the European consumer is not that engaged, the Japanese consumer has landed, everything is slowing down,” Rambourg told Vogue Business.

Who will take over from Virginie Viard at Chanel?
Analysts are speculating about who might succeed Viard’s coveted role at Chanel. According to W Magazine, Hedi Slimane, the current Creative Director at Celine, could be the leading candidate for the Chanel post. Not only was Lagerfeld reportedly a big admirer of Slimane’s work, particularly during his time at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent, but rumours have even circulated that Slimane was being considered to succeed Lagerfeld before his passing.

Additional potential candidates include Jeremy Scott, former Creative Director at Moschino, Pierpaolo Piccioli, who departed Valentino in March, Sarah Burton, who recently left Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, and Phoebe Philo.

BurdaLuxury’s Lens
Virginie Viard’s departure from Chanel, coupled with the broader changes in the fashion industry and the controversy surrounding Chanel’s recent collections and pricing strategies has significant implications for Asian consumers. As one of the largest and fastest-growing luxury markets, Asia holds immense sway over the success of brands like Chanel.

Viard’s departure raises questions about the brand’s future direction and its ability to continue resonating with Asian consumers who have long admired Chanel’s timeless elegance and heritage. While the exit may spark curiosity and anticipation about the brand’s new chapter, it also highlights the importance for Chanel to reassure its Asian clientele of its commitment to quality, innovation, and inclusivity. As the fashion landscape evolves, Chanel’s ability to navigate these transitions while staying true to its core values will be critical in maintaining its relevance and appeal among Asian consumers.

The brand has confirmed that Virginie Viard’s successor will be announced “in due course.” Viard’s final collection will be unveiled at Paris Haute Couture Week this month, marking the end of her tenure as Creative Director of Chanel. This highly anticipated event will not only celebrate Viard’s contributions to the brand but also set the stage for the next chapter in Chanel’s storied legacy.

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Faye Bradley

Contributor

Faye Bradley
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