The first Marchesa collection I ever saw, in the mid-aughts, was an informal presentation of gowns of untold yards of lace and ethereal tulle, shown in—as I recall—a shabby series of rooms during fall New York Fashion Week. This was several years before the label’s grand runways in the gilt ballroom at the Plaza. One of the designers, named Georgina Chapman, seemed shy and nervous. The other, Keren Craig, was more talkative.
I thought that Marchesa would need a broader offering than romantic ball gowns, but the narrow focus turned out to be part of its genius. Over the following decade, Marchesa took over the red carpets at the Oscars, Cannes, and endless film premiers. The gowns were universally flattering, intricate, and stunning. They weren’t particularly artistic or challenging or “directional”—the sort of work that creates legendary designers. They were just beautifully designed and perfectly executed, that’s all.
It didn’t take much dot-connecting to notice that stars of Miramax films, backed by Chapman’s loutish husband Harvey Weinstein, wore a lot of Marchesa in those years. This was not openly discussed among the editors and publicists in the fashion swirl. Rhapsodizing about Marchesa gowns was a matter of course. Mentioning their success with Weinstein-backed celebrities was impolite.
There were then—and still are—lots of things going on in the fashion industry that insiders mentioned only in whispers if at all—unpaid internships, rampant sexual harassment, and the over-sexualization of youngsters posing as artistic expression.
The taboo was broken last fall with the widespread allegations of Weinstein’s sexual misconduct over many years. Suddenly, fashion industry insiders were outraged—outraged I say!—that celebrities had been pressured to wear Marchesa gowns, unfairly benefiting the fashion label. The same people who had been extolling Marchesa’s virtues—and could not possibly have failed to know Weinstein was involved in the label’s success on the red carpet—now had their pitchforks out.
Chapman went into self-imposed exile, the label canceled its fall runway show in February, and awards season passed without a single Marchesa gown on the red carpet. Suddenly, celebrities were forced not to wear Marchesa, or risk being called out as complicit with Weinstein’s alleged abuse. Marchesa’s dresses suffered more than Miramax’s films: Boycotts of Miramax films failed to emerge and no one was suggesting that Netflix should drop Shakespeare in Love from its library.
One of the many things that 2017 revealed is the many forms of misogyny embedded in all our hearts and brains.
Co-founder Keren Craig and the 80-some other employees of the atelier in New York’s shrinking garment industry—assuredly most of them women—were caught in the Marchesa backlash. Sins of the husband are often visited upon the wife—or in this case, the soon-to-be-ex-wife, her partner, and their employees. They have’t been evenly applied even among wives. Melania Trump has a growing fan club, though her strongest public protest against her husband has been to faintly shoo away his pinky. Rather than pulling a Camille Cosby by defending her man, Chapman swiftly filed for divorce from Weinstein. We don’t know what had gone on previously in the Weinstein-Chapman household (nor should we) but it’s a fair guess that he did his best to keep her in the dark about his extramarital activities. Should she have guessed? That is a question for her therapist.
Marchesa’s new detractors seem to come largely from within the fashion industry. One person, a (male) fashion publicist, tweeted that Marchesa should be put out of business in the same way that some buildings are demolished after horrific massacres. Those are some strong emotions about actresses—who might otherwise have been paid by contract to don a gown by Dior or Chanel—being pressured to wear stunning Marchesa dresses free of charge.
The public, according to comments by several retailers who have continued to sell the label’s gowns and wedding dresses, has not been so worked up, suggesting the likely success of the come-back effort for the label that launched last week. There’s an interview in Vogue and a sympathetic editor’s letter from Anna Wintour. Scarlett Johansson, undoubtedly with Wintour’s blessing, wore a gorgeous burgundy concoction by Marchesa to the Met Gala. This courageous move on Johannson's part was met with much criticism of Wintour, who like the rest of the fashion industry has been turning a blind eye to its excesses for years.
This is not about Anna Wintour or the many other wrongs committed by many of Marchesa’s accusers in the name of fashion. This is about a woman-owned, woman-run fashion label being branded with a scarlet letter for its association with Weinstein.
How about this for a concept: Let the perpetrator pay the price of his sins.