Can Marchesa Survive In A Post-Weinstein World?
Since the Marchesa brand first debuted in 2004, it has often been described by notable fashion critics in the exact same way: as a fairytale, for princesses, and a celebrity red carpet favourite. Hardly a review fails to make these three references, despite the many inspirations and themes designers and co-founders Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig have cited, including heiress Marchesa Luisa Casati, the woman the brand was named for. Marchesa has created gowns for Miss Havisham-type Victorian princesses (fall ’11, later worn by Penelope Cruz at the Cannes Film Festival), Japanese princesses conceived by ‘20s explorer Aimee Crocker (spring ’18, later worn by Julianne Hough at the Emmys), and Neoclassical princesses painted by artist William-Adophe Bougeuereau (fall ’12, later worn by Kristen Stewart at the premiere of Snow White and the Huntsman). Perhaps more than any other designer of the past decade, Marchesa is best-known for consistently dressing our equivalent of princesses — brides, socialites, and celebrities — as the heroines of our modern-day fairy tales.
This connection is no accident. When you consider that Chapman was married to Harvey Weinstein, who has long been said to have buoyed the fashion company both financially and strategically, and whose recent and takedown exposed the dark ways our real-life princesses have been victimised, it’s hard not to reconsider Marchesa’s role in a post #metoo world. Not a single movie star has worn its designs on the red carpet since October, the brand canceled its fashion show during this season’s New York Fashion Week, and Chapman herself has stayed relatively quiet about the future of her label. “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” she told People, announcing her separation from Weinstein. But neither Chapman nor Craig have said anything about the movement at large — or Marchesa’s role within it. The rest of us are left to question whether Marchesa’s hyper-feminine gowns, ones that are so closely linked to her estranged husband, can continue to exist. Is there a future for Marchesa without Weinstein? And, if so, what will it look like?
For all the talk about how Weinstein masterminded everything in his life, the accusations about his involvement with Marchesa are not entirely fair. Of course, it makes sense why people would say that: The primary investors are his friends, The New York Times reported he made “timely contributions” to the company, and Fortune wrote that Weinstein used company credit cards to advance himself $75,000 for Marchesa dresses he gave away as gifts to a business acquaintance. But Chapman and Craig have long claimed that Weinstein was not involved in Marchesa, and based on multiple interviews with people previously involved with the brand prior to #MeToo, it became clear that Weinstein had little impact on the actual clothes.
One former employee told me that in the many years they saw Weinstein at Marchesa shows backstage, the only design recommendation he made was to increase the heel height from an already high 100 millimetres to a nearly unwalkable 125. “The standard height of a heel that is considered to be very high is 110,” clarifies stylist Nicole Chapoteau. “It does not surprise me that a man who completely disrespects women as a sport would demand such insanity. I consider those shoes for sitting.”
Another told me that even his attempts to influence the pricing, waste cost, and logistics were performative — his threats were never taken seriously. It was Chapman, Craig, and Chapman’s brother, Marchesa CEO Edward Chapman, who ran the show.
When it came to public relations, Weinstein did not have much of a presence beyond attending the show. Though two New York-based fashion editors responsible for red carpet round-ups told me they felt an exaggerated pressure from PR representatives to place Marchesa credits higher up in slideshows and in more prominent positions in the paper, it did not seem to be a policy dictated by Weinstein. I spoke with three former PR representatives who were either directly or tangentially responsible for Marchesa accounts who acknowledged that certain publications — New York papers like The New York Post and New York Daily News, along with WWD, Vogue, and celebrity weeklies — were prioritised, but that was the case for any fashion client who relied on red carpet placements for coverage. One former director, who asked to remain anonymous because she wasn’t at license to discuss the brand, told me that any PR-client relationship is built on tit-for-tat expectations, and though Weinstein’s clout did earn Marchesa preferential treatment at times, it was in ways they would also extend to other clients, for other reasons.
But what Weinstein did contribute was key to Marchesa’s red carpet ubiquity and status as a household name. Many outlets throughout the years have reported that Weinstein bullied his star actresses into wearing Marchesa to key red carpet appearances, threatening to withhold funding for current projects, or promising favourable future ones. Weinstein was a direct conduit between designer and celebrity, and because of this, Marchesa has been a red carpet staple since the very beginning despite never having been seen as culturally relevant in ways that other red carpet brands, like Calvin Klein, Rodarte, or Christian Siriano, have been.
That connection made the brand relevant by default, even if the designs were not. One of the most curious things about Marchesa was that its particular type of hyper-feminine point of view has never really been cutting-edge, which gave it the unusual quality of always being in style without ever actually being on trend. A Marchesa dress was objectively beautiful — it was palatable enough for boring men, and imaginative enough for the fashion set. Essentially, it was the style equivalent of an Instagrammable piece of avocado toast.
It’s this aesthetic worldview — this insistence that women are best (and win) when they appear like princesses — that makes it so hard to disentangle Weinstein’s spectre from Marchesa, even if he never had much to do with the look and feel of the gowns, and is no longer associated with the brand. At the end, the women Marchesa dressed are the same women Weinstein preyed upon, sometimes quite literally. In Marchesa dresses, women become women who please men, whose clothes are only appropriate for fairytale events, and whose shoes give the illusion of stature and poise, but the reality of paralysis.
This type of glamor and beauty are undoubtedly Chapman and Craig’s own artistic inclinations (Craig told The New York Times in 2007 that “we make the kinds of dresses that we want to wear.”) — it did not come from Weinstein, and he had nothing to add to or subtract from it. But it would also make sense that Weinstein would feel at home within this worldview.
Since #MeToo, things have changed. Workplaces around the country have palpably been affected. The balance of power has shifted. The assumptions surrounding sexism are different. Chapman’s own life has been affected by this — she’s filed for divorce, and Weinstein is no longer involved in business operations at Marchesa. But it would certainly mean something if Marchesa’s aesthetic hasn’t changed. In a way, the first post #MeToo-designed Marchesa collection would be a window into what the world would be like without men like him. That is, if Marchesa even has a future in a post-Weinstein world.
On one hand, Marchesa seems to still be selling well with brides, which makes sense. But on a larger scale, it’s hard to tell without seeing the collection to know whether the designers believe a post-Weinstein world is any different philosophically than a pre-Weinstein one. It’s my suspicion that their future will have much less to do with their obvious skill, enthusiasm, and care they exhibit as designers, and much more to do with whether fairy tales still hold any magic for women. If Chapman and Craig are to move forward, they have to break the pattern of creating collections that can be described as a fairytale, for princesses, and a celebrity red-carpet favourite. Without Weintstein, the latter might naturally occur. But the first two say something about whether Chapman and Craig understand their place within #MeToo, and whether they see the events that took place as just personal, or cultural, too.
Weinstein flipped a switch, and the Potemkin village of our celebrity industrial complex, our workplaces, our government, and our society was suddenly exposed for what it really was: a man’s world, despite our being in it. It wasn’t a fairy tale after all. It was quite the opposite.
Of course, there are still women, communities, and societies for whom the curtain hasn’t yet been lifted. But for the rest of us, considering all we know, to insist that a world under Weinstein would still be fantastical would be a hard sell.
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