As Marchesa Plans a Comeback, How Do We Talk About Georgina Chapman?
Today, a piece went up on the Hollywood Reporter, dedicated to the 'post-Harvey comeback' of fashion designer, Marchesa co-founder and Weinstein's ex-wife, Georgina Chapman. The piece is a glowing display of support, both from the fashion industry and more implicitly the celebrity press, of Chapman. She's kept it pretty low-key since the news of Weinstein's sexual abuse epidemic made waves worldwide last October. The article focuses on a board meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America that she attended. 'Clad in tight leather pants, a black tailored jacket and kitten heels, she walked into a gathering of her peers... The room broke out in applause.' One big name in her corner is Diane von Furstenberg. Her work with Marchesa is detailed, as well as the effect the Weinstein news had on the business, including the brand being absent from the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women charity fashion show. While the all-black fashion protests were the most notable changes to the 2018 Oscar season red carpet, the lack of Marchesa was the other sartorial elephant in the room.
Harvey Weinstein bullied women in almost every manner possible while at the prime of his Hollywood power. It was just accepted that those who worked with him would be strong-armed into doing whatever he wanted. You make the film, you do the campaign, you follow his rules and maybe it'll pay off for you. One way he exerted power over women was through fashion. By now, it's well documented how actresses making films under The Weinstein Company banner would be pushed into wearing Marchesa dresses. At the time, we all assumed it was no mere coincidence that stars like Nicole Kidman and Octavia Spencer were choosing the relatively new fashion line for their red carpet moments.
Renee Zellweger in Marchesa at the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Felicity Huffman confirmed that Weinstein once threatened to not invest any money in promoting her film Transamerica unless she wore Marchesa on the red carpet. One publicist claimed that Sienna Miller was told that Weinstein would be very disappointed in her if she didn't wear Marchesa when she sat at Harvey's table at the 2007 Golden Globes. Renee Zellweger wore a knee-length Marchesa dress to the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004, an incident Weinstein admitted in 2013 was his doing. Find any actress who made a film with The Weinstein Company and the chances are you'll see Marchesa on the rack.
To talk about Georgina Chapman in the post-Weinstein age is a particularly tricky mine-field. Here is a very successful woman whose work is intrinsically tied to her former spouse and the control he wielded over those he harassed and abuse. For many, the name Marchesa will forever be connected to Harvey, even as she seeks to disconnect herself from him in every conceivable way. Who can blame her? Wouldn't you?
Sienna Miller in Marchesa at the 2007 Golden Globes.
We don't know all that much about the Weinstein-Chapman marriage, but we know a lot about how it was sold to the world, how Harvey tried to market it like his own personal Oscar campaign. The Harvey the world was given in the second wife age was supposedly kinder, gentler, a lot less angry and more dedicated to his family than ever. This was a fairy-tale as glitzy as the frocks Chapman designed, right down to the implied Beauty and the Beast undertones of it all. A 2013 Vogue profile on Chapman could easily double as a power-couple spread. Chapman is photographed with her daughter, in marching self-designed dresses. Weinstein is described as laying 'a protective hand on his wife's back'. A lot of work goes into ensuring the narrative that no, it's the actresses who flock to Marchesa without being prompted. Indeed, after a year or two, they were the ones begging Harvey to get them in touch with Georgina. She is 'the doe-eyed Grimm Brothers beauty' and her husband is the 'Hollywood Huntsman', which is admittedly more flattering than the Beast.
Weinstein was never stupid, although his ego could make it seem that way. He knew how to play his cards right when it came to selling himself to the world, and it benefitted him greatly to be a doting husband rather than a cad or cigar chomping playboy. It was a helpful smokescreen from the truth, but one where Chapman often felt like the butt of a joke. Aside from the unflattering fairy-story parallels to their pairing, most reporting of the marriage was done with that knowing wink, as if we all knew the real name of the game here. Why would someone so much younger than Weinstein, someone so beautiful and on her way up in the world, latch onto the guy the industry not-so-secretly loathed? Love seemed too outlandish for the marriage, as much as that shimmery Vogue profile tried to convince readers that this was true romance. Surely, we all thought, it was simply an arrangement?
Felicity Huffman in Marchesa at the Transamerica premiere.
This is partly what makes it so tough for many to even talk of Chapman, both as an individual and as a businesswoman. It's hard for a lot of people to swallow the naïve idea that she had no idea her very powerful and scary husband was coaxing these A-List actresses into wearing stuff she designed. Marchesa wasn't even an official fashion house when Zellweger wore that red dress. Every gossip blog talked about the Marchesa problem. Why would these huge stars, who could get access to any designer they wanted, wear rather underwhelming dresses by a fashion line that had no clout or appeal? At best, the notion that Chapman had no idea of this exchange made a few eyes roll. At worst, it sent whispers of 'complicit' around Hollywood.
It would be foolish to claim that Chapman's success came entirely without Weinstein's help, particularly given her status as a judge on Project Runway All Stars, a show that was, at the time, produced by The Weinstein Company. This couple were a unit, and it was simply accepted business in Hollywood. You do the film, you wear the dress, you win the Oscar.
But we don't know everything. We can't and shouldn't know what Chapman's life was like as Mrs. Weinstein. Given everything we've heard about how he treated women he barely knew for decades, it makes one's stomach churn to imagine how he treated the woman he married. I do not wish to speculate on this - it's simply too distasteful and unfair to Chapman - but we've all thought it. Maybe he hid all his monstrous behaviour from her for all those years. Perhaps she simply thought he was a horn-dog and hey, it's Hollywood and everyone does it. Even if the marriage was just a convenient pairing of mutual demographic expansions, lives were in the firing line and two children are at the heart of this. It's one of the reasons I found Rose McGowan's scorched earth approach to discussing Chapman so uncomfortable. There's a world of difference between benefitting from a few fashion deals and aiding a serial rapist. To label Chapman as a perpetrator of the latter, with no evidence beyond a hunch, is simply dangerous.
Marchesa will probably weather the storm. Eventually, even as #TimesUp remains a red-carpet staple, actresses will return to brands they know, and plenty of them loved Chapman's work without Harvey telling them to. Many will stay away from the brand, finding the weight of its history too much to bear, but in the cutthroat clique of fashion, one that proudly protects its own, it seems that Marchesa will flourish. Chapman's solo story may remain a more complex topic in the years to come.
(All photographs from Getty Images)