On Monday, as Hollywood’s elite players nurse their hangovers after the Golden Globes, the film producer Harvey Weinstein will face his own sobering task: the start of his trial in New York, where he faces five charges of rape and sexual assault.
The former company head will be flanked by his legal team, led by Chicago defense attorney Donna Rotunno and New York lawyer Arthur Aidala. Missing will be his longtime date for film premieres and fashion weeks past—ex-wife Georgina Chapman, the clothing designer and co-founder of label Marchesa who divorced Weinstein after allegations of sexual harassment and assault broke in 2017.
In 2018, The Daily Beast reported on possible financial links between Marchesa and Weinstein (neither Chapman or Weinstein returned detailed requests for comment at the time).
The label—once a red carpet favorite—has been sighted less and less on celebrities as the Weinstein scandal mushroomed. The familiar analysis of dresses at the Globes on Sunday will include a beady eye for any boldface names brave enough to step out in Marchesa.
But its relative red carpet invisibility does not mean Marchesa has shut up shop. It is still in business, its fancifully glamorous creations still being bought by women like bride Katie Donohue Witte. Thanks to customers like her, Marchesa has survived the scandal surrounding Weinstein. Female customers still believe in Chapman—and Marchesa.
Donohue Witte, a 37-year-old marketing director from Fayetteville, Arkansas, married husband Sean in Winter Wonderland-themed nuptials on Dec. 14, under soft candlelight with tables decked out in hunter green, white, and gold. For her rehearsal dinner, she bought a strapless red tulle Marchesa gown that was the perfect mix of whimsical and elegant.
“As a newlywed myself, you really spend time before the wedding reflecting on the man you’re about to marry,” Donohue Witte said. “You celebrate how intimately you know him, how you trust him implicitly, and how he’s your very best friend. So to see such a vivacious and successful woman married to a man who has treated women with such disregard and disrespect was met with mixed emotions by me.”
Marchesa, founded by school friends Chapman and Keren Craig in 2004, has long been a go-to for brides. Over the past 13 years, Marchesa has became synonymous with “fairy tale” or “Disney princess.” But since 2017, it's had another, less storybook association: Weinstein.
Until that moment, Marchesa dresses were red carpet staples, with each award show promising the sight of A-list women burying themselves in tulle or feathers. Sandra Bullock accepted her 2010 Academy Award for Best Actress dripping in metallic lace, courtesy of Chapman and company.
But with the deluge of horrifying accusations against Weinstein came a charge against Marchesa, one that validated years of industry tongue-wagging: the executive allegedly forced actresses to wear his wife’s designs while promoting his films.
Felicity Huffman confirmed that the producer threatened to withhold funding promotion of the film Transamerica, for which she would go on to win a Golden Globe, unless she donned the label during its junket. Last year, Jennifer Aniston alleged “bullying” at the hands of Weinstein, who wanted her to follow suit for media appearances in 2005.
Soon after The New York Times and The New Yorker dropped their respective investigations into Weinstein’s conduct, Chapman released a short statement to People. She announced that her marriage was over and asked for privacy from the press, stressing that the care of her two young children remained her “first priority.”
It was a request more or less granted for over six months, until Scarlett Johansson stepped onto the 2018 Met Gala red carpet in Marchesa.
“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,” Johansson later said.
She was the first major Hollywood actress to speak favorably of Chapman, kicking off a détente orchestrated by fashion’s glitziest tastemakers.
Two nights later, the inimitable Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour continued to heap praise onto Chapman, saying on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, “Georgina is a brilliant designer and I don’t think she should be blamed for her husband’s behavior. 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.”
Conveniently, the following week Vogue published an exclusive first interview with Chapman, painting her as a newly-single mother in the midst of a feminist awakening. “I don’t want to be viewed as a victim,” Chapman said. “Because I don’t think I am. I am a woman in a shit situation, but it’s not unique.”
So emerged the Marchesa empowerment narrative, accepted by many women who did not want to blame an innocent wife for the sins of her husband.
Constance Wu wore a turquoise toga dress for a pivotal scene of the blockbuster 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians. The actress arrived at the next year’s Met Gala arm-in-arm with Chapman, the two clad in monochromatic silver, a shiny display of solidarity.
When Priyanka Chopra wore a strapless white gown from of the label for her bachelorette party, she told WWD “Georgina’s a friend of mine, and she has been. And it’s not her fault. And I don’t think it’s right to take it out on a self-made women what somebody in her life did. That’s the wrong attitude. I’ve known her for years, and that was a beautiful gown, and deserved to be worn by a bride-to-be. And it made me feel like a princess. It was the right choice.”
Chopra’s use of “self-made” when describing Chapman definitely requires quotation marks. As The Daily Beast revealed in June 2018, Marchesa had a business link with a company called SeaMarch Creations Inc (an anagram of Marchesa), which itself appeared to be tied to Weinstein. Neither he nor Chapman would respond to questions posed about it.
Through a representative, Chapman also declined to comment for this story. Lawyers for Weinstein did not respond to inquiries. Craig, the co-founder who stepped down last June, said she would not comment.
“It’s not a crime to want a Marchesa gown”
Georgina Chapman and her PR team may be hard at work pushing a liberated woman’s redemption tale, but for over a decade Marchesa was viewed—in Vogue’s words—as the fashion world’s “prom queen.” The brand has never been considered edgy.
“It’s not like [Marchesa] was very feminist,” Megan Collins, a cultural insights analyst at Civic Entertainment, told The Daily Beast. “That’s not what they were known for, so having the antifeminist association of Harvey Weinstien didn’t hurt the brand as much as it could have.”
Indeed, the brides who choose to wear Marchesa in the two years since #MeToo are fine with looking like princesses, thank you very much.
“I think a lot of women today grew up watching Disney movies,” Dawnn Karen, a therapist who studies how dress impacts human behavior and brand consultant, told The Daily Beast. “It’s not a crime to want a Marchesa gown. If the person can separate Weinstein from his wife, then they can look at the feelings the dress exudes, not the story behind it. [They can] focus on how it makes them feel, dressing for themselves, and not others.”
Gabriela Melendez Olivera, 31, lives in Washington, D.C., and works as a director of strategic communications for a nonprofit organization. She and her husband, Luis, married in a Catholic ceremony in San Juan, Puerto Rico, followed by a reception at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel.
She wore Marchesa’s “Daffodil” dress for the occasion, a fit and flare gown with a plunging neck and embroidered lace, affixed with organza flower appliqués. “I didn’t buy the dress because of the brand, I bought it because I fell in love with it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to dress with lots of lace and flowers. It didn’t seem right to boycott a female designer for the actions of her husband.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Nicole Bolt, 25, a copywriter from Denver, Colorado. She got married in the label at her small dinner party wedding last September. “I have always been someone who watches the red carpet, but not the Oscars,” Bold said. “I’ve always dreamed of being able to wear Marchesa or Oscar de la Renta [at my wedding].”
Bolt told The Daily Beast that the early days of #MeToo, each one bringing a new accusation, were “super difficult for a lot of women.” She admired Chapman’s response to the chaos.
“I don’t know her, but I don’t think it was a PR stunt for her to be so secluded,” Bolt said. “Her Vogue interview was honestly really sad. She felt like she didn’t deserve to be out in public. It’s heart-wrenching. I think she did it for herself and the children.”
Bolt was “happy” to see Scarlett Johansson supporting Chapman at the Met Gala, but she would have worn Marchesa on her wedding day regardless of any celebrity endorsement. “When we say that we need to believe women, I think that we need to believe all women,” she said. “That includes someone like Georgina, who was the wife of someone that committed abuse for so long. You can’t cherry-pick who you choose to believe. She’s included in that.”
Donohue Witte, the Arkansas bride, asked herself the ubiquitous questions—how couldn’t Chapman know what was going on?—but she ultimately decided not to place blame on a wife. “Maybe she truly didn’t know, or maybe she felt pressured as many of his victims did,” the bride said. “I assumed innocence, and instead chose to support a female-led business and wear a dress that made me feel womanly and special.”
Malikah Kelly, 34, lives in Los Angeles and has worked in the fashion industry for 10 years. She’s also an influencer with over 15,000 followers. Kelly posed in a red lace Marchesa gown for a Valentine’s Day shoot, which she later reposted around the holidays. “I’m not going to get rid of something I like because [Chapman’s] husband did something stupid,” Kelly said.
Neither is she upset by the seemingly transactional nature of the couple’s relationship. “People feel like Harvey gave her an edge because he made women wear her dresses,” Kelly said. “She was in a privileged position. But I don’t think that anyone, if they had the choice, would not rely on the connection and support they had to start a business. None of us would say, ‘I’m going to do this on my own.’”
Nicole Young, a TV host and producer who lives in New York, wore strappy Marchesa stilettos to her wedding in 2016. She purchased the pair to support her friend who worked for the accessory line at the time. While she doesn’t regret her bridal outfit and says the shoes will always be special to her, she admits that if she got married post-#MeToo, she would not have gone with Marchesa.
“A lot of the whole Marchesa hype, the part that we’re so disappointed to read and hear about, is how Harvey really strong-armed all of those actresses into wearing the stuff,” Young said. “It just feels undeserved now.”
Young says it’s “difficult to believe” that Chapman had “no idea” Weinstein forced women into her designs. “She didn’t commit his crimes, but she could have knowingly benefitted from them,” Young said. “As someone who is creative, that should feel bad for you.”
But it would be a waste of talent, Young believes, if Chapman’s career totally ended. That doesn’t mean it can’t shift. “I don’t want to see someone’s career thrown away, but maybe Marchesa has to go away and the Georgina Chapman collection has to come out.”
Marchesa’s future beyond the red carpet
Other than her Vogue interview, Chapman has stayed silent, and Marchesa’s New York Fashion Week shows—once star-studded events—are now quietly-held, private affairs. Chapman sold her West Village townhouse and now lives just north of the city in Bedford, New York. Townspeople are so used to seeing famous faces—Glenn Close, Blake Lively, and Ryan Reynolds have all lived there—that local shopkeepers are almost bored talking about them.
There are not one, but two, equestrian shops on Bedford’s Main Street (actually called Old Post Road). But workers at both establishments say they haven’t met Chapman out and about, despite her daughter’s reported love of horses. “She may have come in to the store,” one said. “I don’t know what she looks like.”
Privacy is paramount for Chapman, and Bedford provides plenty. Another merchant said that unlike nearby Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest towns in America, the gigantic homes in Bedford are built far from the street, hidden by large gates or tall trees. “No blowhards,” he said.
According to locals, Weinstein frequently visited Bedford 234, a wood-paneled, rustic-chic restaurant in town. (During one trip upstate, the producer flipped his Jeep while trying to avoid hitting a deer in the road, which attorneys say caused his reported back problems.) Kyle O’Connor, the eatery’s manager, told The Daily Beast he banned Weinstein from returning after customers complained.
“What he would do, is he had people come in first—his family, ex-wife, they would come in, sit down, order food, and he’d join a half hour later,” O’Connor told The Daily Beast. “He might have tipped all right, but [customers] around him were disappearing. He made everyone uncomfortable.”
According to O’Connor, Weinstein didn’t put up a fight when asked to leave. “I thought there’d be an altercation, I was hoping, I’ll take a million dollar punch to the face,” he said. “But he was apologetic and said he didn’t want to hurt business. He hasn’t been back since. I told him if he comes back I’ll call the cops, but he said there’d be no need.”
While her husband makes his mark on the town, Chapman remains an elusive figure. Her personal Instagram account, which once chronicled at-home workouts and East Hampton beach days, has been dormant since the Times story was published in 2017, an archive dedicated to the life she used to lead.
That doesn’t mean @MarchesaFashion, the brand’s official page, is also lifeless. It still boasts 2.7 million followers despite the once-trending threat to #BoycottMarchesa. The website SocialBlade, which tracks social media statistics, reports an average gain of 746 followers a day from December 2019 to January 2020.
“If you’re an industry insider, you know the ins and outs of Harvey’s involvement [in Marchesa],” Collins, the trend analyst, said. “Unless you’re looking for something problematic, you’re not going to find it right away. If you’re scrolling through Instagram and see an influencer wearing the label, it’s not going to be readily apparent that there’s any sort of association. No one is leading the charge to cancel them.”
And while the days of flying feathers and extra-long trains taking up red carpet real estate thanks to Marchesa may be over—or at the very least, diminished—maybe Chapman does not need that anymore.
The way women have shopped has changed a lot in two years, and the brand can stay relevant through influencer posts. This is perhaps the only good luck the brand has received since October 2017. At present, #Marchesa has been tagged in over 164,000 posts, more than other designer wedding labels like #MoniqueLhuillier, #ReemAcra, and #ZuhairMuradBridal.
Marchesa is also available through Rent the Runway, a platform that allows customers to rent and return designer goods at a fraction of the price tag. The company’s site lists not only party dresses from Marchesa Notte, the cheaper, diffusion line, but also tops that can be paired with jeans.
“Marchesa has started to focus more on daywear—more casual looks for customers,” Elizabeth Shobert, vice president of marketing and digital strategy for retail analytics firm StyleSage. “This gives them another avenue to explore, and while these items might not command as high a price point, it does potentially give them access to new customers, higher frequency of wear and purchase, and perhaps even new retail channels.”
Whatever happens in court to Weinstein, Chapman’s Marchesa looks set to continue in business—quietly but steadily continuing to seduce female customers who want the affordable fairytale.