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Updated to include comments from retail analyst Rob Greenspan.
Ten years ago, Georgina Chapman told the New York Times that dating movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had earned her fashion brand, Marchesa, its share of detractors. Fashion insiders questioned how the label, unknown upon its 2004 founding, made its red carpet debut via Renée Zellweger at the Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason premiere. Weinstein, the naysayers said, was the only reason an A-lister like Zellweger would have worn the brand.
“There is a backlash,” Chapman admitted in 2007, the same year Marchesa won Red Carpet Designer of the Year from the British Fashion Awards. “But whatever people say about Harvey to me, I want them to look at the dresses.”
Little did Chapman know the extent of the backlash her husband and, by extension, she would face a decade later. As new allegations of sexual harassment and assault mount against Weinstein daily after damning reports in the Times and the New Yorker, Marchesa seems destined to crumble. On Thursday, October 5th, the day the Times story about Weinstein’s misdeeds broke, Chapman was introducing the 2018 Marchesa bridal collection at New York Bridal Fashion Week. Plus, Helzberg Diamonds announced a collaboration with the brand on a new engagement ring line called Marchesa Radiant Star. By the following Wednesday, plans had changed. Marchesa announced that it was postponing the press preview of its spring/summer 2018 collection, and Helzberg told The Hollywood Reporter that it had scrapped the collab.
“The company’s decision raises questions about what kind of message it’s sending to women with this development,” THR noted, “considering that Marchesa is Chapman’s business — not Weinstein’s — and she was not the abuser.”
Dr. Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the research director for the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media, expressed similar concerns about a possible backlash against Marchesa.
“Georgina Chapman, from my analysis, almost immediately came out and condemned her husband’s actions and expressed sympathy for the women he’s harmed,” Heldman told Racked. “Her response has been a textbook feminist response.”
But in light of the allegations facing Weinstein, some members of the public have called for a boycott against Marchesa. As it is, items from Chapman’s mid-range line, Marchesa Notte, can be found at up to 70 percent off at online retailers like 6pm and The Outnet. The brand that rapidly rose to prominence, boasting just last year that it was the most popular designer on the red carpet, may fall just as rapidly. The fact that Chapman said Tuesday she was leaving Weinstein may do little to save her brand, since she has never been able to shake the idea that her husband made Marchesa what it is.
While Weinstein has maintained that his wife and her design partner, Keren Craig, deserve the credit for Marchesa’s success, he told Vogue that he did play a role in the brand’s 2004 red carpet debut.
“Maybe I helped, but just very, very little, with Renée Zellweger,” he said. Weinstein produced Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and it would hardly be the last time that an actress starring in one of his films wore Marchesa. Sienna Miller, Felicity Huffman, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, and Cate Blanchett are among the other actresses who wore Marchesa on the red carpet after starring in a Weinstein film. If he did coerce these women into wearing his wife’s brand, as the Daily Mail alleges, it’s yet another way the studio executive sought to exert control over women’s bodies.
In the 2007 New York Times profile of Marchesa, Weinstein denied that actresses wore the brand to avoid his wrath. He accused Chapman’s critics of jealousy. He said that his main contribution to Marchesa was introducing Chapman and Craig to publicists Nanci Ryder and Nicole Perna, who in turn introduced them to Hollywood stylists.
Marchesa has not disclosed how much money Weinstein has funneled to the brand. Giuseppe Cipriani and Steven C. Witkoff of the Witkoff Group real estate company are the label’s main investors. But Cipriani is an old friend of Weinstein’s, and both men invested in the restaurant Socialista, where television reporter Lauren Sivan alleges that Weinstein masturbated in front of her.
Cipriani is not the only friend of Weinstein to give Marchesa a boost. Anna Wintour has been a longtime supporter of the brand as well. In 2006, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which helps young designers, honored Marchesa. Weinstein and Wintour reportedly became friends 10 years before, with the movie producer standing out as one of the few people allowed into the Vogue editor’s inner circle.
“I’m a streak player, but Anna's there, good or bad,” Weinstein told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. “When I wasn’t doing so well, Anna would throw a party and put me next to [French billionaire and fashion mogul] Bernard Arnault.”
The friendship between Wintour and Weinstein may be why Vogue.com has only two articles about the allegations against him — an opinion piece and another about Meryl Streep’s reaction to the sex abuse claims. The same person, Bridget Read, authored both. In contrast, Teen Vogue has roughly a dozen pieces about the scandal. Wintour has not released a statement about the allegations against her friend; Racked reached out to Wintour for comment and is waiting for a response.
Weinstein and Wintour have sat next to each other at the Oscars, and the Weinsteins have been repeat guests at Wintour’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute balls. And when Weinstein announced that he’d bought the license to the Charles James brand in 2014, a celebration took place the same week in a costume gallery newly named after Wintour at the museum.
Also, Weinstein and Wintour have teamed up to host benefits for prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton, another woman Heldman says has been unfairly blamed for the misdeeds of the men in her life, like husband Bill Clinton and Weinstein, who contributed to her presidential campaign.
“I think that speaks to a deep-seated sexism in our society,” Heldman said. “We don’t hold men accountable for their actions. Generally, we end up blaming women. Georgina and Hillary Clinton are perfect examples.”
In addition to Weinstein’s ties to Vogue, Marchesa, and Charles James, the film executive briefly owned the disco-era fashion label Halston, leaving the company in 2011. Since 2004, The Weinstein Co. has also produced Project Runway, on which Chapman has made several appearances. And well before he knew Chapman, his company produced the satirical fashion film Pret-a-Porter in 1994.
Although Weinstein has toyed with several side projects in the industry for years, retail analyst Rob Greenspan said that the Oscar winner isn’t generally known for his ties to fashion. He said that until last week many shoppers probably didn’t know that Marchesa’s cofounder is Weinstein’s wife, and that bodes well for the brand.
“He did help with the publicity, with the PR, but at some point, she stands on her own,” Greenspan said. “People will give her a chance because she did not cause the problem.”
According to Greenspan, Marchesa will take a short-term hit because of the Weinstein allegations but will likely rebound.
“If this were a newer company, an up-and-coming brand, I think the [scandal] probably could have been disastrous... but this brand is 13 years old,” he said. “It has a following. It has a customer-base who probably do have brand loyalty. They like the style. They like the fit.”
He also pointed out how John Galliano lost his job as creative director of Christian Dior in 2011 after an anti-Semitic rant. Not only did Dior bounce back from the controversy, Galliano did too, landing a job with Maison Martin Margiela in 2014.
Because of Weinstein’s clout in arts and entertainment, however, he has been described as “the mastermind behind Marchesa,” as one publicist told The Hollywood Reporter. Characterizing him as such gives the impression that the brand should pay for his wrongs.
But framing Weinstein as the brains of the operation does a disservice to Chapman and Craig. While it’s clear he’s sunk money into the brand and used his connections to get Marchesa worn on the red carpet, he did not create the ethereally feminine look for which it is known. In other words, he is not responsible for its creative vision, just as Mick Jagger, who used his connections to benefit late girlfriend L’Wren Scott’s brand, was not responsible for its vision. Since some of Weinstein’s forays into fashion have fizzled, he certainly is not the only factor in Marchesa’s popularity.
As marketing researcher Robert Passikoff explained to the Associated Press, “He may have been the doorway in, but the fact is the clothes make the women. It’s ultimately how the designers behave in this situation that will have a greater effect than all of the stuff that he did.”
Sure, controversy-averse Hollywood may sidestep the brand to avoid raising suspicions that they support Weinstein. But sinking the wife’s business for her husband’s wrongs only expands the reach of his misogyny.
“She acted with dignity and grace,” Heldman said. “I think we should actually be supporting her brand and encouraging more of that behavior (supporting victims and leaving abusers) than punishing her for her husband’s actions. That’s adding further injury. She’s already in a terrible position. The feminist thing to do would be to support her brand.”