The battle for Marchesa: Georgina Chapman splits from Harvey Weinstein - but can save it the brand?
Amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein from the likes of Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd, one woman at the centre of it all was keeping quiet: Georgina Chapman, the movie mogul's wife and co-founder of the luxury fashion label Marchesa.
Critics speculated as to whether the 41-year-old would support her husband of 10 years, with whom she has two children, India Pearl (7) and Dashiell (4). Weinstein seemed confident, saying: "She stands 100pc behind me. Georgina and I have talked about this at length… Georgina will be with Lisa [his lawyer, who resigned five days ago] and others kicking my ass to be a better human being and to apologise to people for my bad behaviour, to say I'm sorry, and to absolutely mean it."
Alas, it wasn't to last - on Tuesday Chapman announced she was leaving the disgraced producer as he reportedly seeks treatment for sex addiction at a European rehab centre.
"My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions. I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time," she said in a statement.
But sources claim Chapman is more concerned about the impact the scandal might have on Marchesa than about their marriage, and that the separation is likely a desperate bid to save her brand.
Last Thursday, The New York Times published a startling report detailing nearly three decades of allegations against Weinstein. On Sunday, he was fired from his production company and on Tuesday, The New Yorker published the findings from a 10-month investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct, including an audio recording where he admitted to groping the Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. He has "unequivocally denied" all allegations of non-consensual sex. While the Weinstein Company looks to have just about collapsed in the space of a few days, it's not the only business struggling in the aftermath of the exposé.
The English-born Chapman started Marchesa with former model Keren Craig in 2004, the same year she began dating a recently divorced Weinstein. Classmates at London's Chelsea College of Art and Design, Chapman and Craig had little professional experience as designers, but their label soon became a red carpet mainstay.
In just seven months, they had dressed Renee Zellweger for the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (a film distributed by Weinstein's company Miramax), and a year later, Cate Blanchett stepped out in Marchesa at the premiere of The Aviator (executive produced by Weinstein). "Maybe I helped, but just very, very little, with Renee Zellweger," Weinstein later admitted.
In 2007, the year the couple married, Marchesa dressed stars including Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway and Sienna Miller for the Oscars and the Golden Globes, and was named Red Carpet Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Marchesa is known for its frothy and notoriously over-the-top princess gowns, as well as accessories, shoes, jewellery and the lower-priced diffusion line Marchesa Notte. The brand's bridalwear is also hugely popular. Loaded with sequins, feathers and intricate embroidery, a single dress can take up to two months to complete.
As the news broke last week, Chapman was in the middle of presenting Marchesa's autumn-winter 2018 bridal collection. She posted photos of the designs on Instagram, which quickly drew ire from users slamming her husband's alleged misconduct. Many of the criticisms have since been deleted, while supportive comments like "Everyone really needs to leave her be!" remain. Marchesa's Instagram posts have been limited, with only users the account follows allowed to add comments.
Although Weinstein does not have an official role at Marchesa, the brand has undoubtedly been tarnished by association with him. Over the last decade, Weinstein has become a familiar face in the fashion world, as executive producer of the Heidi Klum-fronted reality competition series Project Runway and co-host of awards season parties with labels like Chopard. He also enjoys a close friendship with US Vogue editor Anna Wintor and is often spotted sitting next to her on the front row at his wife's fashion shows.
It has been rumoured that Chapman relied on her husband's Hollywood connections to help bolster her brand, as many actresses starring in his films could be seen wearing Marchesa at premieres, awards shows or on press tours. He is believed to have helped place Marchesa gowns on the likes of Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Sandra Bullock and Penelope Cruz.
As one fashion insider said: "[He] wasn't exactly subtle about asking Miramax's female stars to wear Marchesa on the red carpet. 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?"
The insinuations that Weinstein helped her business have followed Chapman for years. In 2006, a Los Angeles Times article noted that some in the fashion industry were suspicious of Marchesa's success: "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… Say the word 'Marchesa' and publicists groan."
But Marchesa's popularity on the red carpet has started to wane. The brand had already started to lose some of its lustre before Weinstein became embroiled in scandal: while it used to regularly dress a raft of A-list actresses at the same event, this year the most notable output was a custom gown worn by singer Rita Ora at the Met Gala, while Kate Middleton opted for a design from the brand's diffusion line to see a West End show.
While her husband was a crucial factor in Marchesa's success, he could now bring about the brand's downfall.
Considering it's a family business - Georgina's brother Edward is the CEO - there's a lot riding on the brand, and fashion insiders have suggested one way to save Marchesa would be by donating money or supporting an organisation for victims of sexual assault.
Otherwise, as an unnamed fashion publicist told the Hollywood Reporter: "No star is ever going to want to wear the brand again."