“Who are you wearing?” is often criticized as the most grating, sexist question to be asked on an awards show red carpet. But Georgina Chapman right now might be wondering when the next actress to be asked it answers with a dazzling, proud smile, “Marchesa.”
The future of Chapman’s famed red carpet label—worn at the Oscars and Golden Globes, among other ceremonies, by the likes of Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lopez, Octavia Spencer, Sienna Miller, and Renee Zellweger—is in question as the celebrity and fashion worlds take stock of the sexual abuse and harassment scandal engulfing film producer Harvey Weinstein, Chapman’s now-estranged 65-year-old husband.
Chapman set up Marchesa with former model Keren Craig in 2004, the year she and Weinstein met.
A leading Hollywood publicist, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast: “This is a fucking tsunami right now. I don’t think it is the end of it. I don’t think we’ve seen all the collateral damage play out for all kinds of players.
“There is a sense of real relief that it has come out, but also a sense that there are more things that will come to light. It’s really affecting every part of the business.”
In her only public statement so far—her representatives did not respond to a Daily Beast request for comment—Chapman, 41, released a statement on Tuesday.
“My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” Chapman’s statement to People read. “I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.”
The couple married in 2007 and have two children, 7-year-old India and 4-year-old Dashiell. Weinstein also has three children—Remy, 22, Emma, 19, and Ruth, 14—from his previous marriage to Eve Chilton.
Page Six reported that Chapman was “lawyer-shopping for her divorce.” US Weekly reported Friday evening that Chapman and Weinstein were not speaking, with Chapman receiving “necessary updates” from Remy.
A “devastated” Weinstein, whose apologies and public statements have merely amplified criticism of him and his behavior, said he supports his wife’s decision. Weinstein is now the subject of police investigations in the U.K., as well as the U.S.
In a statement he said, “I am in counseling and perhaps, when I am better, we can rebuild. Over the last week, there has been a lot of pain for my family that I take responsibility for. I sat down with my wife Georgina, who I love more than anything, and we discussed what was best for our family. We discussed the possibility of a separation and I encouraged her to do what was in her heart. I understand, I love her and I love our children and hopefully, when I am better, I will be in their lives again.”
How transactional their marriage was, and how much Chapman knew about her husband’s alleged behavior are unknown. What is also unknown is how much both their moves as the scandal continues to unfold are strategized commercial and public relations plays.
The Daily Mail reported that Sienna Miller was similarly pressured to wear Marchesa in 2007, the year she made another Weinstein movie, Factory Girl. Weinstein himself admitted to “maybe” helping Renee Zellweger pick a Marchesa dress for the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
“He was the mastermind behind Marchesa—orchestrating deals and using his influence in terms of the celebrity connections for her on behalf of the brand,” an L.A. fashion publicist told the Hollywood Reporter of Weinstein. “They both benefited from the relationship, but she certainly knew about his bad behavior.”
Chapman has appeared as a judge on Project Runway, the fashion design-themed reality show produced by the Weinstein Company.
Until the scandal, Marchesa’s red carpet ubiquity made it as familiar a name as Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, and Jenny Packham. Marchesa gowns, intricately beaded and accessorized with feathers and sequins, may be described as sexy-fairytale.
Celebrity stylist Bruno Lima told The Daily Beast: “Marchesa’s reputation is pretty big: the gowns and quality of the work, the design and brand DNA, is so strong. It is a top brand on the red carpet. It’s so luxe and so gorgeous. It’s just something very beautiful, and everyone desires to wear her (Chapman’s) dresses.”
Elizabeth Shobert, director of marketing at StyleSage, the fashion analytics company, told The Daily Beast that Marchesa would not be a red carpet choice, at least in the short-term.
“Fashion, like many other industries, including Hollywood, is all about relationships,” Shobert said. “For a luxury brand like Marchesa, where the average retail price for a dress is north of $1,700, it caters to an elite few. Those elite few are wearing Marchesa on the red carpet and at other exclusive events, so the short-term impact could be significant.
“Despite Georgina Chapman quickly distancing herself from Weinstein, there is an unsavory association between the brand and Weinstein, and likely many PR-savvy celebrities and wearers of her brands will want to steer clear of this, for the short-term at least.”
One publicist told the Hollywood Reporter: “No star is ever going to want to wear the brand again.”
However, Lima told The Daily Beast: “Georgina Chapman is a completely different individual to him and her business is separate to everything that is happening. She announced she’s leaving him. I don’t know if she knew about it all, but her clothes and brand speak for themselves.
“I think a lot of the actresses will stand up for Georgina Chapman and support her as a woman and as a businesswoman. She’s associated with him, but especially in fashion people just want to have the best dress.”
Shobert noted that, “I would guarantee that for those who had little to no knowledge of Marchesa prior to the past few week’s revelations, there’s a significantly larger population who is now very much aware of the brand.”
However, she added, “Now can they afford to drop $1,500 on a dress? Probably not. Which is why Chapman’s partnership with jeweler Helzberg Diamonds (to produce a range of engagement rings, a partnership whose termination was announced on Thursday) getting dropped is significant. Her chances of mainstream success in the short-term are likely pretty damaged.”
Are there any glimmers of light for Chapman?
Social media allows damaging information to spread wider and faster than ever before, Shobert said, “but the other side of this is that consumer recollection–because of the constant inundation of information–is becoming shorter and shorter.”
Shobert, acknowledging that she did not know the financial health of Marchesa, added that “licensee deals like the Helzberg Diamond were, I’m sure, part of Marchesa’s long-term strategy to grow the brand. Depending on the state of the business, these short-term impacts could have a very serious effect on their ability to get to the long-term.”
Whether stylists and stars wear Marchesa again “depends on what we hear from Georgina and Marchesa as a brand over the next few weeks, “said Shobert. “But for the short-term, I think there will be significant hesitance to be at all associated with this scandal.”
It was a necessity, said Shobert, for Chapman to separate from Weinstein “if she wanted to save the brand. I think that the unanswered questions about her knowledge of his behavior, the longer they go unanswered, will further damage her, and as a result, her brand’s credibility.”
When I interviewed Chapman for the London Times in 2013, it was at Marchesa HQ in New York’s West Chelsea. She was pregnant with Dashiell, and looked, as always, as glossy and beautiful as the models and actresses who wear her dresses. In a busy atelier, 60 staff were stitching and pressing gowns.
I asked Chapman what first attracted her to Weinstein. “He is probably the most charismatic person you’ll ever meet. He’s an extraordinary man and an extraordinary talent. He is my husband and I love him. I love being married. Everyone said, ‘You won’t feel any different,’ but I think you do. I’m romantic. Look at my clothes! I love the idea of the fairytale.”
I noted Weinstein’s ruthless reputation. “You should see him with our daughters,” Chapman said to me. “He’s just putty in their hands.”
Did he understand couture, I asked. “He goes to Dior shows. He gets costume because he has beautiful costumes in his films. He’s incredibly interested in everything, but does he have anything to do with this brand? Absolutely not.”
She laughed. “Have you seen the way he dresses? I would not let him near this brand, no. When it comes to fashion, it’s a separate world: think Church and State.”
Chapman told me the couple had homes in the West Village, a weekend residence in Connecticut, and Chapman kept her first flat in Brook Green, London, “for sentimental reasons.” In Connecticut, they cooked and walked their dogs, she said.
“I don’t dislike luxury,” Chapman told me. “I like beautiful craftsmanship.” She “loved” Frette sheets, candles, baths and, not then because she was pregnant, “a good Tuscan red on a Friday night.”
Brought up in upper-middle class comfort in the U.K., Chapman told me she had always wanted to enter fashion, after flirting with art.
She and Craig, who had met at art college, named Marchesa after the Marchesa Luisa Casati, an eccentric 20th-century Italian heiress, for “her fearless approach to fashion, being a living work of art. Like Isabella (Blow, the fashion editor and muse who encouraged the duo), she was a rare bird. I love women who embrace fashion, their bodies, unafraid.”
In 2013, Chapman told me she would like to keep Marchesa an independently owned company, but wouldn’t have “a problem” with the idea of a conglomerate swooping. “At the moment I have the best job,” she told me. “I get to dream all day and design gorgeous dresses.”
That highly profitable day-dream has now become a nightmare.
“It’s critical right now that she and the brand re-trench,” said Shobert of Chapman. “I think, first, an extremely carefully worded statement is a necessity in order to buy some time for the brand to figure out its next steps. Second, the relationship that a brand this premium has with its clients is one of its most important assets.”
As for stylists and celebrities, “Marchesa will need to spend some quality one-on-one time with these influencers to remind them about the label, not the surrounding scandal. Create a highly desirable product and you improve your chances of pulling this off.”
Lima said the selecting of dresses for awards ceremonies was a complex process. But he, and he thinks other stylists, would be open to recommending Marchesa for clients.
He also thinks that Marchesa would survive as a label. “It is worth millions of dollars. Their business is very stable and very established. I think Georgina Chapman needs to keep doing what she’s doing. She needs to focus on the brand and quality of product she’s putting out there, and make sure it remains strong. If she shows she’s a businesswoman and a smart woman, she’s so talented her work will speak for itself. She will remain on track by working hard.”
The ravenous media cycle may also help.
“I think that lying low for a while will probably be for the best, so that some time can pass and we can move onto the next scandalous headline,” said Shobert.