The dresses are the stuff of fairy tale and fantasy: delicate peach tulle embroidered with sparkling flowers, matched by cloud-like silk sleeves hovering over a black velvet sheath. Yet the reality behind last week’s much-anticipated Marchesa collection at New York Fashion Week is nothing short of a nightmare. For every single dress in the 50-strong range, released digitally last Wednesday and modelled by Karen Elson, was designed and created by Harvey Weinstein’s recently divorced wife, Georgina Chapman, in the weeks after she learned that her husband had repeatedly abused and allegedly raped scores of women. The designer behind Marchesa, the fashion house that has dressed women from Michelle Obama to the Duchess of Cambridge, and from Nicole Kidman to Jennifer Lopez, sought solace in her sketches as her husband’s behaviour over 30 years emerged in story after devastating story. The result is a collection of strikingly bold gowns that carry the hopes of Marchesa’s red-carpet revival.
Everything that you see here today Georgina sketched while she was out of the office and going through a very, very tough time,’ says Keren Craig, Georgina’s best friend, business partner and godmother to Georgina and Harvey’s daughter. The trauma is still fresh, but to mark the label’s first New York Fashion Week since the scandal broke last October, Keren is ready to explain to Grazia how the Marchesa autumn/winter ’18 collection was created in the eye of the storm.
Surrounded by 17 new occasion dresses, Keren gestures around the NY hotel room as she says, ‘George was just sending sketches through. It was unbelievable. This collection is the result of that time. I feel emotional about it because I actually couldn’t believe how incredibly strong she was.
‘She threw herself into her work, she threw herself into protecting her kids. Marchesa is her life, it is her passion. You see it here: even though she was going through all that, these beautiful things have somehow come out of such a hard time.’
Keren and Georgina, both 41, have been best friends since they met as 18-year-olds at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Keren is emotional as she describes how the unfolding scandal – which saw up to 90 women accuse Weinstein of sexual assault and rape – threatened to engulf the label that they have spent 14 years building.
Recalling the moment she learned, as the friends showed off their bridal collection on 5 October, that Weinstein was a serial abuser who nevertheless denies rape, Keren says, ‘I felt incredible sadness, I was just thinking about Georgina and my god-daughter and their son and helping however I could. [But] there was nothing I could do.’
In fact, as textile designer and co-founder, she helped by holding the fort at the Marchesa studio while designer Georgina battled headlines and lawyers and extricated herself from her marriage of 10 years, with a settlement reported at $20m.
‘It was about getting to the office and making sure that everyone there knew that it was business as usual.’
At the height of the crisis, a jewellery deal fell through, but others stood by them. ‘All our core retailers came out in support. Neiman Marcus is a big supporter, and Saks. It means everything to us. We’ve worked hard at it and our customers are sticking with us.’ Marchesa also has a strong presence in the Middle East with a store in Dubai.
But for a brand that built its name on the red carpet, there is no doubt that these are uncertain times. Not a single big-name star has been seen in Marchesa since Weinstein was exposed and [Desperate Housewives star] Felicity Huffman has come forward to say she was pressured by Weinstein into wearing a Marchesa gown to collect her Golden Globe for Transamerica in 2006.
Keren is visibly shaken as she tries to formulate a response. ‘That was very difficult to read, and shocking,’ she says. ‘It was the first I’d heard about it. I remember the dress and I remember working with Felicity, she was absolutely lovely. So I was shocked... and very sad.’
The design duo seem to have accepted that their Hollywood red-carpet reign is over, for now. ‘In the future, I am sure you will see our dresses on the red carpet,’ says Keren, ‘but right now it’s time to step back from that. That’s always been a great marketing tool for us, but it’s not our core business.’ Indeed, Georgina herself hinted to Grazia that they are looking forward to taking the brand in a new direction, ‘We are looking forward to expanding our cocktails and separates, giving more versatility to our collections for our customers,’ she said in a statement.
Georgina and Keren founded Marchesa in 2004, and soared to success after Renée Zellweger wore a strapless crimson gown to the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason, produced by Weinstein (who later admitted to ‘maybe’ helping her choose Marchesa). Immediately, they faced claims that Georgina’s then-boyfriend – the decidedly unfashionable Weinstein – had not only bankrolled the label but had given it an unfair advantage. Keren, however, is at pains to insist that he has no financial connection to the business. ‘Harvey was helpful in the beginning. He helped us with meeting people, arranging contacts, [but] in terms of the business, he has not been involved.’
Did he ever make a financial investment? ‘No’. Does he have any remaining financial involvement? ‘No.’ Really? No shares, no stake? ‘None, nothing.’
Business aside, Keren obviously feels the Weinstein betrayal keenly. She was maid of honour at Georgina’s 2007 wedding to the 65-year-old movie producer, but will not go beyond saying, ‘I just feel immense sadness for the victims, for the women who have spoken out so bravely. I’m very glad he’s getting some help.’
Within days of the scandal, Georgina announced her decision to divorce. Did Keren ever have any inkling that Weinstein was even unfaithful? ‘Absolutely not. No. It was a total shock.’ Again she looks close to tears. ‘It was upsetting and my heart was broken for George.’
There was also speculation that Weinstein’s notoriously tough management style spilled over into Marchesa. Did Keren ever experience any Weinstein bullying? ‘No. I have not. Harvey was my best friend’s husband, it was a social relationship.’ She is adamant, however, that Weinstein’s ex-wife must not be counted on the list of abused women.
‘Georgina doesn’t see herself as a victim. That’s very important. She’s just trying to get on with her life. You’ve got to realise George is such a strong woman. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very hard time, but she’s quite inspirational.’
The friends are considering what kind of gesture to make in response to the grassroots #MeToo movement, and the #Time’sUp campaign, which raises funds for women to fight harassment.
‘We want to support them. We want to make a gesture. We need to properly process how it can be the most beneficial.’
Now, in terms of their business, the focus is firmly on their customers and taking the brand in a new direction. ‘We want the clothes to speak for themselves,’ says Keren. Whether these customers can separate the dreamlike Marchesa autumn/winter ’18 collection from the sex-abuse storm in which they were created holds the key to the brand’s future. But what is clear is that Georgina and Keren’s remarkable friendship will survive. Says Keren: ‘I just want her to know that I’m there for her, no matter what.’