Marchesa: A brand built on sleaze
If it wasn’t so repulsive, you’d think it was the plot of a movie. Over the past few weeks, one of Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets has been revealed and like a bottomless can of worms, the revelations have just kept coming. For years, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has apparently pestered women for sex, groped them, forced himself on them and even ran around hotel rooms naked trying to get women to perform lewd acts on him or watch him perform them on himself. Considering Weinstein’s physique (he is now being referred to as an “old fat sex pervert” by kinder outlets), it would be as laughable as it is totally revolting if the allegations weren’t so serious. And in what some would call a just twist, the scandal hasn’t just brought down a cinema fat cat, it’s also rapidly bringing down a Fashion brand. Grab your popcorn ladies and gents, time to watch the car crash unfold …
The list of those accusing Harvey Weinstein of everything from gross and lewd conduct to rape keeps growing – Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Clara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Zoë Brock, Léa Seydoux, Emma de Caunes, Liza Campbell, Romola Garai, Judith Godrèche, Heather Graham, Rose McGowan, Mira Sorvino to name just a few. It’s actually getting to the point where it would be quicker to simply name the people he didn’t try and make a pass at. For decades, the chunky mogul sex fiend used his A-list status and dollars to molest women and get away with it. And considering the extent of his ‘activities’, others simply had to be aware and worse still, in on the cover up. The power Weinstein wielded in the movie business also allowed him to spread his tentacles elsewhere including Politics and of course, Fashion.
His now estranged wife Georgina Chapman set up Marchesa with Keren Craig in 2004 and in what seemed like a Fashion fairytale, rapidly became an A-list favourite. Marchesa and Harvey Weinstein were indeed very happy bedfellows. Apparently, Weinstein was actually the brains behind the brand (when he wasn’t busy trying to grope an unwilling victim), setting out the strategy for its expansion and using his connections to get its designs on the right people. Chapman and Weinstein actually started dating a few months after she set up Marchesa. When onlookers expressed admiration at how fast her designs were being embraced and worn by the right celebrities, Chapman modestly said she had been ‘lucky’. That’s one way of putting it. A little while later when her relationship with the American producer came to light, it was apparent that her ‘luck’ had a name: Harvey Weinstein. And boy did Ms Chapman ride that dirty gravy train all the way to the bank. Weinstein had access to celebrities and enough power to strongly encourage (threaten) them to wear her designs so it made sense that Chapman should use her boyfriend then husband’s connections to promote her brand. After all, why have a dog and bark yourself right?
But as the scandal has unfolded, it appears that it was all a lot more sinister and disgusting than that. It wasn’t a case of celebrities endorsing Marchesa or being influenced into doing so, it was literally a case of do or die – do endorse the brand or your career will die. Sienna Miller and Felicity Huffman were both apparently strongly encouraged (read “pressured into”) to wear the brand or see their projects plummet. Lord knows what other celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Penelope Cruz, Renée Zellweger, Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez were threatened with to show Marchesa’s designs on the red carpet.
And so the fall of Harvey Weinstein is inevitably – and rightly – bringing about the fall of Marchesa. Many argue that there is no way Georgina Chapman wasn’t aware of her husband’s predatory ways and the underhanded methods Weinstein used to make sure her brand stayed in the spotlight. If that is the case, they were actually partners in crime which would make the whole thing even more disgusting. It would basically amount to a dastardly double act: he groomed, molested and pressured them, she dressed them. And even if she wasn’t aware of Weinstein’s activities, she was happy enough to use his contacts and influence to fast-track her brand rather than putting in all the hard work and effort like emerging brands usually have to. Their marriage has also been described as ‘sexless’ and a business arrangement. If this is true, Marchesa definitely deserves to sink as Chapman didn’t care how or what Weinstein did to get celebrities to wear her designs – as long as they wore them.
The Weinstein scandal has brought several unspoken truths (which everyone in the Fashion industry was of course aware of) to the surface. The Marchesa affair shows that a brand’s longevity and success has very little to do with design credentials and a lot (everything) to do with money and influence and in cases like this, a severe lack of morals. Weinstein’s bottomless cash pots funded Marchesa and his influence kept it going. Without Weinstein, Chapman and Marchesa would certainly have had a harder time getting off the ground and making it. Without Weinstein’s cash, the brand might not even have survived. The more money and influence a brand or those connected to it can wield – by any means necessary as shown in the case of Marchesa – the easier it will be for it to gain a foothold. On today’s Fashion scene, talent, solid design and quality are merely pretty cherries on an often unsavoury cake.
And of course the minute it all goes south (no pun intended), everyone heads for the hills. The minute the scandal broke, the very fashionable rats began leaving the sinking Marchesa ship as fast as their little legs in stylish heels would carry them – almost as quickly as Weinstein’s former friends and associates tried to distance themselves from him. As a result, Marchesa has postponed its Spring Summer 2018 Preview. Hezlberg Diamonds which was supposed to launch an 11-piece collection of Marchesa bridal jewelry went ahead with the launch but without the Marchesa tag. Stylists such as those at Us Weekly have decided not to use Marchesa gowns and there will doubtless be other deserters as time goes on and more allegations come to the surface. Because as experience has shown, this is probably just the tiny tip of a very sleazy iceberg.
Whether Georgina Chapman and Marchesa as a whole were aware of Weinstein’s tactics to ensure its success or not, one thing is sure – the brand is right in the middle of a shit tornado and it will take a miracle to ensure it comes up smelling of the roses its gowns are often adorned with. Marchesa is now tainted with a very slimy brush. And even though Georgina Chapman has now left Harvey Weinstein in what many see as a last-ditch attempt to save her brand (she hung on as long as she could, probably hoping Weinstein’s money would once again buy silence and ensure she kept her lifestyle and connections), who in their right mind is going to want to be seen in it? Should anyone be crazy enough to consider a piece by the brand which is now synonymous with a sex pest, their PRs will make damn sure it doesn’t happen – unless said PR wants to sink their client’s career faster than a lead balloon.
Cinema and Fashion have always worked hand in hand and we were all aware that there were shady tactics at play but few outside the industry were aware of just how far that went. Even though Harvey Weinstein’s rank antics have now been exposed (again, no pun intended) and many doors have been shut in his face, speaking out against him isn’t without consequence. Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended as she dared to tweet about him. If Marchesa has that kind of power still going for it and Weinstein is willing to keep pouring cash into it to protect it as much as he wants to protect himself, the brand might not sink, even though it is as disgraced as its captains.
As expected, Weinstein is lawyering up to the hind teeth, as though a barrage of legal minds can save him. And who knows, Hollywood being ‘what it is’ he could make a comeback though that would really show the industry to be scraping the barrel. But Weinstein obviously seems to believe all is not lost. He was after all pleading with Hollywood executives to back him before he was sacked claiming that a little bout of therapy and a bit of well-managed PR spin should set things right. Like WTF? Seriously, the man’s arrogance and stupidity are beyond ridiculous. What now remains to be seen is whether the delusion will extend to Marchesa and whether or not the Fashion world will be keen to forgive and keep embracing a brand whose popularity was built on sleaze. If it does forgive, Fashion will certainly not be doing itself any favours by proving those who acccuse it of being corrupt, dirty and devoid of morals right.