The Marchesa designer’s creative vision has delivered countless fairy-tale moments. She talks emotional connections and red-carpet dressing with EMILY CRONIN
Photographs by BJORN LOOSS
Styled by TRACEY TAYLOR
Georgina Chapman is standing in the middle of a tulle-scape. Around her, untold yards of lace, satin and silk have transformed an office space into a treasure trove of fantasy gowns – a natural habitat for a designer who has been the catalyst for many fairy-tale moments.
"It's so special, seeing a woman put on a dress and witnessing that emotional connection," says Chapman, a still point amid the finery in her ruffled Balenciaga jacket and Alexander Wang dress. "You feel the empowerment of that woman feeling beautiful." She should know. As one half of the Marchesa design team, Chapman has devised some of the past decade's most coveted gowns.
Chapman and partner Keren Craig, a friend since their days at London's Chelsea College of Art and Design, began their label in 2004, named in tribute to the decadent Marchesa Luisa Casati. Soon after, the duo created two dresses to wear to a pivotal dinner party – pivotal, as Chapman found herself seated next to the late fashion provocateur Isabella Blow.
"Isabella asked if she could wear my dress to Paris Fashion Week," recalls Chapman. The corseted sari-silk dresses won Blow over and she became an instrumental supporter. "She told us, 'You must do eveningwear'." Tamara Mellon, another friend and advisor, recommended that the duo promote their pieces to the entertainment industry. And when Renée Zellweger chose their crimson sari-style number for a Bridget Jones premiere, they were off. "It was incredible for a new brand to get that kind of exposure," says Chapman. "The power of the red carpet really became apparent to us." By then, Chapman had begun dating the film producer Harvey Weinstein who, at 24 years her senior, boasted a roster of accolades for films including The Lord Of The Rings and Shakespeare In Love. When the stars of his films began wearing Marchesa, some attributed his connections to the brand's success, but they missed one point: the dresses were sublime.
Fast-forward ten years, and Marchesa's genius for romantic gowns has won A-listers over by the legion. Sandra Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker, Halle Berry and Blake Lively are all fans. More recently, Kerry Washington plucked a cream lace gown straight from Marchesa's SS14 runway, wearing it to the Emmy Awards just days later. Still, Chapman never knows whether an actress will wear a requested dress until she spots her on the red carpet. "A zipper could break," she says. "You can't count on anything."
But back to that "emotional connection". Marchesa's pieces are intertwined with emotionally intense experiences, from weddings to Oscar wins – moments that carry unique pressure. "It's nerve-wracking," she says. "You want them to feel amazing and enjoy that moment. You’ve got to fulfill that dream."
The most emotional creation for Chapman was also among the most miniature. "[It was] a dress for my daughter's first birthday," she says. "It was white with embroidery and tulle. Very romantic." India Pearl, her first child with Weinstein, whom Chapman married in 2007, is now three and has inherited her mother's love of dressing up. "This morning, I was taking her to school so I threw on jeans. She said, 'No, Mummy, that is not beautiful'. She brought me a dress, I put it on, and she said, 'That's better'."
In April 2013, Chapman and Weinstein welcomed their second child, Dashiell Max Robert. He arrived 11 days before Marchesa's SS14 bridal presentation, and Chapman returned to the office almost immediately. "I take what time I can, but it's difficult," she says. "When you run a business, you can't disappear for months on end." Instead, Chapman has carved out baby-friendly spaces at brand HQ, as the accumulation of toys in her office attests. "I wake up feeling happy every day," she says. "I can't remember life before children. It makes everything have a point and purpose." She's also stepmother to Lily, 18, Emma, 15, and Ruth, 11, from Weinstein's first marriage: "I get all the benefits without having to do the telling-off," she says.
Between Chapman's work and Weinstein's Oscar-winning films, finding time together can be a challenge. "The first question is, 'What country are you in?'" she says. "We fit in early or late dinners and go to events together. We make it work." But the social whirl stops for weekends at their Connecticut country home. "Friday night through Monday morning is family time," she says, describing her routine as, "Eat. Sleep. Play with the kids. Be with my husband. Relax."
As Marchesa looks to its second decade, Chapman is far from complacent. Besides the brand's main line and Bridal, there is the Notte cocktail line, the jetset Voyage line, bags, a fragrance, and Chapman's upcoming debut film, a short created under the guidance of director Ron Howard, to be screened at a festival later this year. "I'm hopeless at sitting still," Chapman says. "I'm much better under pressure." With that, the weekend calls. "I can't wait to be with my kids."