Chanel: Who Will Take Fashion’s Top Job?


Late Wednesday, BoF broke the news that Virginie Viard had exited Chanel.

A force for continuity who carried on Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy after his 2019 death, while bringing a lighter, more youthful touch to Chanel’s runway collections, Viard sat atop a storied fashion empire: The second-biggest luxury brand with revenues of nearly $20 billion last year, Chanel stages six fashion shows per year across ready-to-wear, haute couture and its annual “Métiers d’Art” craftsmanship showcase. Not to mention its near-unparalleled brand prestige.

While some fashion fans bristled at Viard’s increased focus on ultra-wearable silhouettes, her more approachable, contemporary take on flagship products like tweed jackets helped to fuel surging sales as the Covid-19 pandemic pushed luxury consumers toward blue-chip brands. During her tenure, sales of ready-to-wear increased by a factor of 2.5, Chanel recently reported. That’s to say, her successor will have big shoes to fill.

At the same time, Chanel is currently in such a strong position that the house won’t need to rush Viard’s succession. The brand grew by 16 percent in 2023, outpacing key rivals, and has such clear codes and sufficient clout with consumers to weather a season or two without a creative director. (Chanel will rely on its studio team to designer its June couture outing).

Yet even if Chanel can afford to take its time, the fashion world is breathlessly awaiting news on who will take up the industry’s most coveted position. Speculation as to who will succeed Viard went into overdrive as soon as her exit was reported, with names circulating on social media ranging from more long-rumoured contenders like Hedi Slimane to outliers like ex-Moschino creative director Jeremy Scott.

Much will depend on how Chanel and its owners, the Wertheimer brothers, see the creative director role going forward. Do they want a transformational figure like Lagerfeld, who could revamp the brand’s image and serve as the face of the house for decades? Or another deft merchandiser like Viard who will get the most commercial mileage out of its craftspeople and codes? New configurations are also possible, with Chanel eventually choosing to employ multiple creative directors like Hermès or Louis Vuitton.

The Big One

Rumours have swirled that Hedi Slimane was being lined up to join Chanel, and launch menswear, since his 2016 departure from Saint Laurent. Now, after a 5-year turn at Celine that saw the house grow into a €2.5 billion per year megabrand, sources say the designer has been engaged in a lengthy, difficult negotiation with parent company LVMH that could lead to his departure. And Chanel speculation has gone into overdrive again.

In some ways, Slimane seems like the perfect fit for Chanel. A branding genius and impeccable stylist, his penchants for black-and-white, bold-face branding and practice of shooting campaigns himself are heavily inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel. And while Lagerfeld rarely shied away from doling out brutal criticism, he habitually made glowing remarks about Slimane, as well as adopting the designer’s ultra-slim menswear silhouette.

But bringing on the exacting (and reclusive) Slimane would come with challenges: The designer is known for demanding total control over branding, campaigns, store concepts and more. While that approach helps to curate an ultra-coherent universe for devotees of his vision, giving that much power to one individual would be risky for a company at Chanel’s scale. It also feels out of step with new CEO Leena Nair’s mission to evolve Chanel’s internal culture, professionalise processes and reinforce teams and structures in a bid to future-proof the luxury giant.

Then there’s Slimane’s approach to design: composing the latest versions of his trademark slim silhouette by reinterpreting vintage references, or demanding that teams bring him myriad fully-realised samples to “shop” from (and cancelling the rest). This would be out of step with Chanel’s couture culture, where designers work closely with the atelier and suppliers to bring collections to life.

Slimane also doesn’t engage with the press or do public appearances. Neither did Viard, for that matter. But predecessor Lagerfeld’s charismatic public persona was an asset as he built up Chanel’s aura of high-flying fabulosity over more than 30 years.

Free Agents

Then, there’s the handful of major design talents who currently don’t have a brand.

Sarah Burton exited Alexander McQueen last fall 13 years after taking the reins following founder Lee McQueen’s death. She managed to synthesise McQueen’s founding notions like Britishness, naturalia and punk in collections that were more romantic and approachable and less dark (albeit also less exciting). She’s known to be a collaborative, inclusive designer who has made perpetuating savoir-faire a priority at McQueen — in terms of culture, she’s a fit for the company Chanel says it wants to be. Lagerfeld was a fan, too: “She is fantastic and what she’s doing at McQueen is truly haute couture,” he said in 2016.

Pierpaolo Piccioli is another free agent, having left Valentino in March. The bombastic romance of Piccioli’s haute couture for Valentino wasn’t every fashion critic’s cup of tea, but his shows featured authority, confidence and calculated risk in a way that’s been missing from Chanel’s runway under Viard. In ready-to-wear, shoes and bags, however, Piccioli’s ideas were less easily translated to hit products.

Wild Cards

A collision of Phoebe Philo’s intellectual, design-forward aesthetic with Chanel’s codes is a long-shot possibility some fashion fans are clamouring to see. But there’s an enormous gap between the scale and complexity of her previous roles and Chanel (Celine topped out at around €1 billion during her tenure, and did not yet include menswear or beauty).

Chanel may be a $20 billion per-year powerhouse, but it starts every year at zero like as everyone else. In order to keep powering a business at this scale, a designer with a proven commercial track record like Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri would be a serious contender.

Chiuri’s approach to fashion — which involves animating digestible design ideas with varied collaborations and storytelling focused on craftsmanship — has fuelled rapid growth at Dior, and her way of working would certainly be applicable at principal rival Chanel.

New Configurations

Chanel could also opt for a new configuration that makes room for multiple designers, like at Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Dior. Bringing on Slimane wouldn’t be the only option if the company decided to push into menswear: the brand might seek out an adaptable menswear star, like Dior’s Kim Jones to head up the expansion, while hiring another designer to handle women’s.

As the brand increasingly seeks to position itself as a house of “absolute luxury” — a purveyor of timeless investment pieces à la Hermès — it could also look to bring on a womenswear designer (or designers) who have managed to thrive under a more collaborative structure with multiple voices. Hermès’ creative director for women’s ready-to-wear Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is one name the internet hasn’t yet thought up.

Such a setup would allow for additional perspectives and storytelling opportunities, while also ensuring that no one person is ever bigger than the brand.

THE NEWS IN BRIEF

FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY

(Spotlight/Launchmetrics.com)

Chanel designer Virginie Viard to exit the brand. Viard presided over Chanel during a historic surge in sales as demand for luxury goods exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Viard’s exit is sure to intensify speculation on who might replace her.

Zara owner Inditex profit in line on decelerating sales. The fashion retailer was the best-performing stock in Europe. The shares rose 4.8 percent, after jumping as much as 5.3 percent at the opening in Madrid.

Lululemon jumps after raising its full-year profit outlook. The yogawear brand now sees earnings per share totalling as much as $14.47 in the current fiscal year, up 27 cents from the previous view. First-quarter comparable sales were flat in the Americas, while they rose 25 percent in the international segment.

HanesBrands to sell Champion to Authentic Brands in $1.2 billion deal. Shares of HanesBrands surged 15.6 percent in premarket trading. HanesBrands will provide certain transition services for Champion, including operating the business in select regions.

Outdoor Voices finds new owner after reports of near-bankruptcy. Investment firm Consortium Brand Partners’ acquisition of the athleisure label comes three months after Outdoor Voices was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

Nike layoffs reach its European headquarters in the Netherlands. The sportswear giant is laying off about 2 percent of its global workforce as part of a plan to slash $2 billion in costs. The Nike campus in the Netherlands is home to more than 2,000 employees.

MercardoLibre investments Brazil this year to top initial forecast. The Latin American e-commerce giant expects its investments in Brazil to exceed 23 billion reais ($4.35 billion) and forecasts to hire 11,000 people. The retailer intends to allocate new staff in two new distribution centres it plans to open in Brazil this year.

Dubai’s iconic mall expands to boost the city’s allure for wealthy visitors. The expansion, which includes 240 new luxury retail and dining outlets, will cost 1.5 billion dirham ($408 million), according to Emaar Properties PJSC. The world’s second largest shopping mall currently has over 1,200 stores and 200 food and beverage outlets.

MAS signs 3-year deal to buy recycled polyester. The Sri Lankan manufacturing giant has pledged to purchase enough material from LA-based start-up Ambercycle to make roughly 10 million T-shirts. The agreement is designed to both support Ambercycle’s ambitions to scale its textile-to-textile recycling capabilities and lock in supply for MAS.

Boohoo investors seek £100 million ($127.9 million) in damages after minimum wage row. The investors say those who bought shares ahead of the 2020 labour rights violations report suffered huge losses as a result of the share price drop. Shares in Boohoo dived more than 40 percent over several days.

THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY

Bath and Body Works. Shutterstock.
(Shutterstock)

Bath & Body Works forecasts downbeat annual profit on subdued demand. Shares of the Ohio-based beauty and skincare company fell 8.8 percent in premarket trading as it also expects second-quarter profit below estimates. The company expects 2024 net sales to drop 2.5 percent to flat.

Kering Beauté takes minority stake in Matiere Premiere. The fragrance brand plans to use the capital injection to fuel its global retail expansion. Matiere Premiere’s founders Caius Von Knorring, Aurélien Guichard and Cédric Meiffret will maintain their position as majority shareholders.

Fenty Beauty expands to hair care. Founder Rihanna described the venture as a “flexible line of products” designed for a variety of hair textures in a video posted to Instagram. The line launches June 13.

PEOPLE

A portrait of a man wearing a black top
(Kering)

Laurent Claquin appointed Kering chief brand officer. His appointment comes following the departure of chief communications and image officer Valérie Duport in March. Claquin will report to Jean-Marc Duplaix, who was named deputy chief executive of finance and operations as part of a broader executive shake-up in 2023.

Swiss sportswear brand On taps Zendaya as latest ambassador. The American actress will co-produce brand campaigns and collaborate on one-off collections as the label continues its expansion beyond the running category.

Calvin Klein named Lila Staab senior vice president of brand communications and culture. Staab will be responsible for overseeing the brand’s global entertainment relations and events and driving brand visibility and engagement. She will report to Calvin Klein’s chief marketing officer Jonathan Bottomley.

MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY

Renewcell.
(Alexander Donka)

Textile recycler Renewcell acquired out of administration by Altor. Renewcell will operate as a new company under the name Circulose. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Compiled by Yola Mzizi.



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