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Lagerfeld's heirs apparent emerge at Chanel and Fendi

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Virginie Viard (left), flanked by Italian model Vittoria Ceretti, at the end of the Chanel Spring-Summer 2019 Haute Couture collection fashion show at the Grand Palais in Paris, on Jan 22.

Paris

THE death of Chanel legendary designer and mastermind Karl Lagerfeld this week has left voids in both Chanel and its rival house, fur-maker Fendi.

Chanel, in confirming Mr Lagerfeld's death at age 85 on Tuesday, formally nominated Virginie Viard as the fashion house's creative director, "so that the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld can live on".

Over at Fendi, sources said that luxury giant LVMH won't begin looking for an outside designer to succeed Mr Lagerfeld, but would instead lean on an executive who is a member of the brand's founding family to fill the role for the time being.

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She is Silvia Venturini Fendi, a granddaughter of the brand's founders and its creative director for accessories, menswear, and children.

Chanel's Virginie Viard

Mr Lagerfeld had described the smoky-eyed Ms Viard as his "right and left hand" for more than 30 years. She will now take spotlight after shunning it for decades.

Mr Lagerfeld, known for his sharp tongue, told Netflix's 7 Days Out documentary series: "Virginie is the most important person, not only for me but also for the atelier, for everything."

Ms Viard declines to reveal her age, as is common in the fashion world.

She joined Chanel as an intern in haute couture embroidery in 1987, four years after Mr Lagerfeld took charge, after being recommended by a neighbour of her parents, who was close to Monaco's Prince Rainier.

She said of her relationship with Mr Lagerfeld as Chanel's head of studio in a 2015 interview with AFP: "I imagine we are complementary. I understand where he wants to take Chanel, but I can't really explain it, it's like that. He doesn't spend three hours on a dress. He sees right away if it works well or not."

In November 2017, she told London's The Daily Telegraph that she tries "to please him, but I also like to surprise him".

When Mr Lagerfeld missed Chanel's Paris haute couture show on Jan 22, with the brand saying he "was tired", it was Ms Viard who took the bow.

That set off speculation that the man nicknamed "the Kaiser", who has ruled over fashion for a large part of the past half century, may be about to step back.

At his last Paris show in October, he had gone out of his way to acknowledge Ms Viard, one of the behind-the-scenes heroines at the luxury label, for her years of support.

Often seen wearing a jacket over slim black trousers, she says she likes "fashion that lasts . . . clothes that actually aren't in style".

It is an echo of the famous dictum of Coco Chanel: "Fashion changes, but style endures", a fitting mantra for Ms Viard in her new role.

Her baptism of fire will come on March 5, when she unveils Chanel's Autumn-Winter 2019-2020 ready-to-wear collection in Paris.

Fendi's Silvia V Fendi

She has progressively expanded her role and won confidence in recent years, said a source who requested anonymity because the information isn't public.

Mr Lagerfeld was more broadly known for making the rival Chanel label into a fashion powerhouse, but over at Fendi, his larger-than-life persona - including his signature white ponytail and dark glasses - has remained a key element of Fendi's identity.

But even so, Ms Fendi has become increasingly visible. She invented Fendi's Baguette handbag in 1997 - the first of the "It" bags - and more recently won acclaim for relaunching the brand's menswear collections under Pietro Beccari, who has moved to LVMH's Christian Dior division.

LVMH representatives declined to comment, saying it was too soon to discuss succession as the company mourns the end of a 50-year partnership with Mr Lagerfeld.

"Fendi intends to take its time to pay him the homage he deserves and will communicate on his succession later," the brand said.

Mr Lagerfeld joined Fendi in 1965 and set to modernising the bourgeois fur specialist with new couture techniques to make coats lighter, while at the same time adding intricate patterns. His iconic "FF" logo initially stood for "fun fur".

He continued to design womenswear collections for the house even after becoming the creative director of Chanel in 1983 and founding his own namesake brand. AFP, BLOOMBERG

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