Two-thousand-seven was a fantastic year for fashion label Marchesa. Just the year before the brand was named one of the CFDA’s top ten finalists for the prestigious Vogue Fashion Fund. Actresses like Sienna Miller, Jennifer Lopez, and Anne Hathaway were seen wearing the label’s frilly, princess-perfect designs at red carpet events like the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. And its prolific reputation for dressing Hollywood celebrities earned Marchesa the title of Red Carpet Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
It was also the year that Marchesa co-founder Georgina Chapman married Harvey Weinstein.
A New York Times’ investigation exposed the long-held industry secret that the powerful Hollywood producer was wielding his power to sexually harass and silence actresses and assistants. But Weinstein also regularly used his power over Hollywood actresses in other ways—specifically those that supported his wife.
“[He] wasn’t exactly subtle about asking Miramax’s female stars to wear Marchesa on the red carpet,” an anonymous fashion insider told Page Six after the sexual harassment allegations were published. “And if the studio chief of your movie, and potential movies, asked you to wear a certain designer, wouldn’t you want to accommodate him?”
Chapman and her co-designer Keren Craig established Marchesa in 2004, and the fashion label quickly became successful among celebrities. “The English–born, New York–based duo have been charming the red–carpet set with their dramatic evening dresses since luck landed one of their frocks on the back of Renée Zellweger for her London premiere of Bridget Jones back in 2004,” read a small, glowing profile of Chapman and Craig in a 2007 issue of Teen Vogue. At the time, Bridget Jones was being distributed by Weinstein’s company Miramax.
Chapman first decided to start Marchesa with Craig, a textile designer and fellow classmate, while studying fashion at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in the mid-1990s, where the two went to school. She then got her graduate degree in costume design from Wimbledon College, graduating in 2001. She and Craig decided that to start a line of luxury evening wear after the renowned late magazine editor Isabella Blow was reportedly impressed by a corseted dress she saw Chapman wearing at a London party.
Marchesa dresses were actually beautiful, although well-known for being extremely over-the-top. They were characterized by their hyper-femininity: Chapman and Craig loved corsets, feathers, sequins, and tulle, and could often be quite heavy to wear. The dresses, existing somewhere between the world of ready-to-wear and couture, could sometimes take two months to finish with all the embroidery and embellishing that went into them. It made sense, then, that Marchesa’s clientele were actresses, as they are really the only people who could plausibly wear the line’s dramatic ballgowns. Their biggest Hollywood fan seemed to be Blake Lively who reportedly wore Marchesa to her secret wedding.
2004 was incidentally the same year Chapman started dating Harvey Weinstein, having met at a party in New York City. “I had no idea who he was,” she told Vogue. “He’s not a person you can sort of ignore or brush off.”
According to a 2005 New York Daily News article, Chapman stepped out in public for the first time as Weinstein’s girlfriend at the Golden Globes that year. At that point Marchesa had already dressed Zellweger, Cate Blanchett at The Aviator premiere (which was executive produced by Weinstein) and Diane Kruger at the 62nd Golden Globes (who was starring at the time in National Treasure, which was produced by Disney, Miramax’s parent company at the time.)
At the same time, Chapman was pursuing an acting career, appearing in short films and TV movies up until late 2005, when she began to have bit parts in more high-profile projects like Factory Girl, Derailed, Grindhouse, and The Nanny Diaries. Harvey Weinstein was an executive producer on all of these movies. And a New York Daily News article on the premiere of Derailed revealed what happened when a director forget to mention his terrifying executive producer’s girlfriend was in his movie:
Uptown at the Loews Lincoln Square, “Derailed” director Mikael Hafstrom apparently had a close encounter of the Harvey kind. With the colorful movie mogul looming a few feet away to preside over the Weinstein Co.’s inaugural release, Hafstrom stood up to thank the cast - naming Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel and rapper RZA, among many others. Then he yielded the microphone, only to return a few minutes later. “I, um, meant to include Georgina Chapman, who is also in the movie,” Hafstrom said sheepishly, as audience members tittered. The 30-ish Chapman, who plays a hooker in the film, is Harvey Weinstein’s girlfriend.
Chapman’s short tenure as an actress ended around 2007, but luckily for her Marchesa was becoming a quick success. The brand counted fans in actresses like Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, Demi Moore and more, with Chapman and Craig showing Marchesa at New York Fashion week for the first time in 2006. But according to some people in the fashion industry at the time, Marchesa was almost too successful.
“Competitors complain that Marchesa dresses are worn on the red carpet because the stars—and their agents, managers and lawyers—need to please the powerful Weinstein, who, along with his brother, has just started his own film company,” read a 2006 Los Angeles Times article on the connection. “Say the word ‘Marchesa’ and publicists groan.” A New York Times article on how many people in the fashion industry believe Chapman hasn’t earned her success reported that many stylists, designers, and editors were afraid to speak on record for “fear of offending Mr. Weinstein.”
Frequently when a Marchesa gown appeared on a red carpet, the celebrity wearing it just happened to also be appearing in a film produced by Weinstein. When Mischa Barton wore a Marchesa gown to the BAFTA awards in 2006, she was starring in the Weinstein-produced Virgin Territory. When Freida Pinto arrived at the 2009 SAG awards in a lavender Marchesa dress, she was starring in the 2010 film Miral, produced by the Weinstein Company. And so on. “He was the mastermind behind Marchesa—orchestrating deals and using his influence in terms of the celebrity connections for her on behalf of the brand,” an L.A. fashion publicist told the Hollywood Reporter.
This parallel was a deliberate and, in the case of stylist Rachel Zoe, a transparent transaction. Over the past decade or so, Zoe has styled actress like Jennifer Garner, Cameron Diaz, and Kiera Knightley. A New York Times article from 2007 detailed her relationship with Weinstein and Chapman:
Zoe was in Manhattan to work on her newest venture, the relaunch of Halston, perhaps the most iconic American fashion house of the ’70s. Her involvement came about in a typical Zoe connect-the-dots way. Zoe met Harvey Weinstein, the Academy Award-winning movie mogul, at a fund-raising event in 2005. Weinstein had a new interest in fashion. His girlfriend, Georgina Chapman, had become a co-designer of Marchesa, a label that specializes in evening dresses. Eager to help Chapman, Weinstein strongly suggested that the stars of his movies wear Marchesa gowns for big events. “I also put the gowns on my girls,” Zoe said now, as she sat in the back seat of a black sedan on her way to a vintage store downtown called Resurrection. “And we became friends.”
The New York Times article states that Weinstein actually bought Halston for $22 million, acquired reportedly through a private equity firm. Zoe had been helping Chapman get her designs on the red carpet, and later, would would be chosen helm the new Halston reboot. (Zoe left Halston in 2008, while Weinstein departed in 2011.)
“Maybe I helped, but just very, very little, with Renée Zellweger,” Weinstein told Vogue in 2013. “Within a year or two, it became actresses calling me on the phone asking if she was available for them,” he continued. “So the tables completely turned. To the point where I didn’t even want to answer the phone if I knew it was an actress.”
Weinstein had invested in Marchesa in “timely contributions” that the Weinstein company would not disclose to the New York Times, but Giuseppe Cipriani and Steve Witkoff—partners of the real estate company the Witkoff Group—were the first big investors of the brand. Cipriani is a longtime friend of Weinstein’s, and Marchesa wasn’t their only shared money-making venture. Just last week, television reporter Lauren Sivan told the Huffington Post that Weinstein masturbated in front of her at the restaurant Socialista—of which both Weinstein and Cipriani were investors.
Weinstein may have also helped Chapman’s designs appear in Vogue magazine, where Marchesa dresses have appeared over the years in spreads. Weinstein and Anna Wintour are longtime friends, as described in a 2011 Wall Street Journal profile:
Her inner circle is tight-knit, their devotion cemented by an almost canine sense of loyalty on Wintour’s part. “I’m a streak player, but Anna’s there, good or bad,” says Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of the Weinstein Company, who goes back some 15 years with Wintour. “When I wasn’t doing so well, Anna would throw a party and put me next to Bernard Arnault.” Out of that came several business deals, says Weinstein (he declines to be more specific). Weinstein returned the favor by stepping in to help Wintour produce a Bruce Springsteen/Billy Joel benefit concert for then-Senator Barack Obama before the 2008 election.
For years Chapman and her husband have denied the allegations that Marchesa would not be what it is without Weinstein’s influence. (Jezebel has reached out to both Marchesa and Georgina Chapman for comment, and will update this post if she responds.)
“It’s all right, you know. It’s fine,” Chapman told the Los Angeles Times regarding those who credit all her success to Weinstein. “If anybody looks at how Harvey dresses, they realize he doesn’t have terribly much to do with designing.”
But it’s nearly impossible, at this point, to separate Marchesa from Harvey Weinstein. In 2015, when the model Ambra Battilana alleged that Weinstein had groped her, the Daily News reported that Chapman was “outraged and furious” by the news. But in a statement he gave to the New York Post regarding the recent investigation, Weinstein said that Chapman was standing by him “100 percent.”
“Georgina and I have talked about this at length. We went out with Lisa Bloom last night when we knew the article was coming out,” he said. “Georgina will be with Lisa and others kicking my ass to be a better human being and to apologize to people for my bad behavior, to say I’m sorry, and to absolutely mean it.”
In a People article published Monday, anonymous sources described Chapman as being “really mad”—but not at Weinstein. Rather, she is reportedly concerned about the impact the scandal will have on Marchesa.
“Georgina talks about the incidents like they happened before they were married,” one source told People. “Right now, she seems very focused on Marchesa... She needs to keep business going. She will do what she can to keep her personal life away from Marchesa.”