Thus begins the rehabilitation of Marchesa, the fairly or unfairly damned-by-association red carpet brand that was a casualty of the Harvey Weinstein horror story: with the Met Gala, a Vogue story and the support of the American fashion establishment.
Marchesa, you may recall, was the latterly tarred and always feathered line co-designed and co-founded by Georgina Chapman, the estranged wife of Weinstein, which at one point was a red carpet staple. Seemingly beloved by actresses including Renée Zellweger and Anne Hathaway, it became another symbol of Weinstein’s abuse of power when stars suggested that they were strong-armed into wearing it: an example of how the producer manipulated the women in his orbit to do what he wanted, whether come to his hotel room or wear his wife’s dresses.
Chapman announced that she was leaving Weinstein, and went to ground, but it didn’t seem to matter; celebrities appeared to abandon the brand, which disappeared from premieres everywhere as if it had never existed.
A collaboration with Helzberg Diamonds was shelved. It was reported that employees were fleeing. Faster than you could say “bugle bead,” stories appeared last October asking, as the Daily Beast put it, “Did Harvey Weinstein Kill His Wife’s Fashion Label?” A February New York Fashion Week show never materialized.
And then May 2018 happened.
Scarlett Johansson wore an off-the-shoulder blood-red dégradé Marchesa gown strewn with flowers on the Met Gala red carpet in New York, becoming the first star to appear in the brand since the allegations against Weinstein broke.
“I wore Marchesa because their clothes make women feel confident and beautiful, and it is my pleasure to support a brand created by two incredibly talented and important female designers,” the actress said in a statement to “Entertainment Tonight.”
Then Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast, told Stephen Colbert on his TV show, “I think it was a great gesture of support on Scarlett’s part to wear a dress like that — a beautiful dress like that — on such a public occasion.”
Vogue followed up by posting the editor’s letter from its June issue. The letter is entirely devoted to a feature on Chapman that runs inside the magazine.
Under a photo by Annie Leibovitz of Chapman standing on a pebble-strewn shore as her two children with Weinstein played, and with the title “Starting Over,” Wintour wrote: “I am firmly convinced that Georgina had no idea about her husband’s behavior; blaming her for any of it, as too many have in our gladiatorial digital age, is wrong. I believe that one should not hold a person responsible for the actions of his or her partner.”
Wintour’s and Johansson’s highly visible statements followed Chapman’s appearance on March 18 at a board meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the governing body of New York fashion — the first time she had attended such a board meeting since the exposure of her husband. According to Steven Kolb, the organization’s chief executive, she was greeted by applause from the gathered designers.
“The feeling was of universal support,” said Prabal Gurung, who was there and clapping.
It is increasingly clear a carefully orchestrated public rehabilitation is underway. The fashion world is ready. But is everyone else?
At a time when Charlie Rose and other men brought down by the roiling wave of revolt against sexual harassment have reportedly begun to plan their returns to the public eye — largely to incredulous reception — Chapman, once seen as an enabler, now framed as another victim, is another kind of test case.
“Well, everyone loves a comeback, and now the dust has settled,” said Robert Burke, founder of the luxury consultancy that bears his name and former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman (which sold, and continues to sell, Marchesa).
Yet, Burke said, “It was smart of Georgina to start with the Met instead of the Oscars, as the Met is really an event for the fashion world; it’s a kind of safe space for her.”
In addition, he pointed out, “the timing is good. This is a moment of solidarity with women, and Georgina has always positioned herself as part of that axis.” Hers was a rare female-run company; she and co-founder Keren Craig were known for their fantasy dresses that seemed to speak to the fairy tale imaginings of women the world over.
According to someone familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak about the matter, it was actually Johansson, who was lauded for her speech at the 2018 Women’s March in Los Angeles but also excoriated for earlier seeming to defend filmmaker Woody Allen, who reached out to Chapman, as opposed to the brand approaching her, to demonstrate female fellowship.
Pointedly, much of the social media reaction to Johansson’s appearance was positive, in contrast to the mood last October, which blamed Chapman for being complicit (or willfully ignorant) in exchange for the leverage her husband’s job and power could provide for the brand.
Although the Weinstein Co. has been facing bankruptcy and struggling to find a buyer, Marchesa and Marchesa Notte, the lower-priced line, are still sold in stores, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Net-a-Porter, among others.
“Our customers never abandoned the brand,” Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said in an e-mail sent from a store event. “The Marchesa and Notte by Marchesa businesses continue to be very strong.”
Besides, he added, “Many, if not most, of our customers haven’t connected the dots between the designer and her marriage.”
Now the question becomes what happens next. Will Marchesa appear on the Cannes red carpet? Will Chapman appear at the CFDA awards on June 4?
“I hope so,” Gurung said. “They do beautiful and unique work, and it was an important part of New York fashion. I definitely missed it.”
Kolb said, “Marchesa deserves a place on the red carpet.
“Scarlett wearing the dress at the Met hopefully begins to move the brand away from an unfair exile,” he added. “It should have a voice and place in our industry.”
All of which suggests this may be a strategic paving of the way for a Marchesa return to New York Fashion Week in September. In which case the brand’s time in the wilderness may indeed be up.