The Rehabilitation of Marchesa

Posted May 11, 2018 5:16 p.m. EDT

Thus begins the rehabilitation of Marchesa, the fairly or unfairly damned-by-association red carpet brand that was a casualty of the Harvey Weinstein horror story: with the Met Gala, a Vogue story and the support of the American fashion establishment.

Marchesa, as you might remember, was the latterly tarred and always feathered line co-designed and co-founded by Georgina Chapman, the estranged wife of Weinstein, which at one point was a red carpet staple. Seemingly beloved by women including Renée Zellweger and Anne Hathaway, it became another symbol of Weinstein’s abuse of power when stars suggested they were strong-armed into it: An example of how the producer manipulated the women in his orbit to do what he wanted, whether come to his hotel rooms or wear his wife’s dresses.

Chapman announced she was leaving Weinstein, and went to ground, but it didn’t seem to matter; celebrities appeared to abandon the brand, which disappeared from premieres everywhere as if it had never existed. A collaboration with Helzberg Diamonds was shelved. It was reported that employees were fleeing. Faster than you could say “bugle bead,” stories appeared last October asking, as The Daily Beast put it, “Did Harvey Weinstein Kill His Wife’s Fashion Label?” A February New York Fashion Week show never materialized.

And then last week happened.

On Monday, Scarlett Johansson wore an off-the-shoulder blood-red dégradé Marchesa gown strewn with flowers on the Met Gala red carpet, becoming the first star to appear in the brand since the allegations against Weinstein broke. “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,” the actress said in a statement to “Entertainment Tonight.”

Then, on Wednesday evening, Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast, told Stephen Colbert on his TV show, “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.”

The next morning, Vogue posted the editor’s letter from its June issue. The letter was entirely devoted to a feature on Chapman that ran inside the magazine.

Under a photo by Annie Leibovitz of Chapman standing on a pebble-strewn shore as her two children with Weinstein played, and with the title “Starting Over,” Wintour wrote: “I am firmly convinced that Georgina had no idea about her husband’s behavior; blaming her for any of it, as too many have in our gladiatorial digital age, is wrong. I believe that one should not hold a person responsible for the actions of his or her partner.”

Both Wintour’s and Johansson’s highly visible statements followed Chapman’s appearance on March 18 at a board meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the governing body of New York fashion — the first time she had attended such a board meeting since the exposure of her husband. According to Steven Kolb, the organization’s chief executive, she was greeted by applause from the gathered designers.

“The feeling was of universal support,” said designer Prabal Gurung, who was there and clapping.

It is increasingly clear a carefully orchestrated public rehabilitation is underway. The fashion world is ready. But is everyone else?

At a time when Charlie Rose and other men brought down by the roiling wave of revolt against sexual harassment have reportedly begun to plan their returns to the public eye — largely to incredulous reception — Chapman, once seen as an enabler, now framed as another victim, is another kind of test case.

“Well, everyone loves a comeback, and now the dust has settled,” said Robert Burke, founder of the luxury consultancy that bears his name and former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman (which sold, and continues to sell, Marchesa). Indeed, fashion has a history of welcoming back the exiled after a period of atonement; see John Galliano, the former artistic director of Christian Dior, who was fired from that house after a drug-fueled anti-Semitic rant in a Paris bar and is now the creative director of Maison Margiela.

Not coincidentally, his return was also bolstered early on by Wintour, who wore a Margiela dress of his design in 2014 when she received a statuette for Outstanding Achievement at the British Fashion Awards. She believes in redemption of talent.

Still, the editor has also been embroiled in the sexual harassment scandals, thanks not only to her former friendship with Weinstein but also to her professional connection to the photographers Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier, all of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct and dropped by Condé Nast. It could be that she has her own interest in helping those found guilty by association.

Yet, Burke said, “It was smart of Georgina to start with the Met instead of the Oscars, as the Met is really an event for the fashion world; it’s a kind of safe space for her.”

In addition, he pointed out, “the timing is good. This is a moment of solidarity with women, and Georgina has always positioned herself as part of that axis.” Hers was a rare female-run company; and she and the co-founder, Keren Craig, were known for their fantasy dresses that seemed to speak to the fairy tale imaginings of women the world over.

According to someone familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak about the matter, it was actually Johansson, who was lauded for her speech at the 2018 Woman’s March in Los Angeles but also excoriated for earlier seeming to defend Woody Allen, who reached out to Chapman, as opposed to the brand approaching her, to demonstrate female fellowship.

Pointedly, much of the social media reaction to Johansson’s appearance was positive, in contrast to the mood last October, which blamed Chapman for being complicit (or willfully ignorant) in exchange for the leverage that her husband’s job and power could provide for the brand.

Although The Weinstein Co. has been facing bankruptcy and struggling to find a buyer, Marchesa and Marchesa Notte, the lower-priced line, are still sold in stores, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi, among others.

“Our customers never abandoned the brand,” Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said in an email sent from a store event. “The Marchesa and Notte by Marchesa businesses continue to be very strong.”

Besides, he added, “Many, if not most, of our customers haven’t connected the dots between the designer and her marriage.”

Now the question becomes what happens next. Will Marchesa be on the Cannes red carpet? Will Chapman appear at the CFDA awards on June 4?

“I hope so,” Gurung said. “They do beautiful and unique work, and it was an important part of New York fashion. I definitely missed it.”

And Kolb said, “Marchesa deserves a place on the red carpet.

“Scarlett wearing the dress at the Met hopefully begins to move the brand away from an unfair exile,” he added. “It should have a voice and place in our industry.”

All of which suggests this may be a strategic paving of the way for a Marchesa return to New York Fashion Week in September. In which case the brand’s time in the wilderness may, indeed, be up.