When Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award in 2010, it was a turning point. But not just for the longtime actress.
“I think the moment that Sandra Bullock won an Oscar in one of our dresses was really an incredible experience,” said Georgina Chapman, the co-founder and designer of the fashion house Marchesa. “It really was quite a pivotal moment for us at Marchesa.”
The one-shouldered formal evening gown was a shimmery silver with a cascade of bugle beads from top to bottom. Chapman remembered that “we worked through two nights straight fixing the dress, because all the bugle beads are made of glass, so every alteration we'd have to break the beads, smash them with a hammer, stitch it up and re-sew on the beads one by one. A lot of work went into that dress.”
Take a peek inside the Marchesa showroom with Georgina Chapman in the video below
But even after all that work, it was no sure thing that Bullock would wear the dress, until Chapman saw her on the red carpet. And so it goes for the Oscars each year. Stylists may reach out in advance and request sketches. And sometimes a celebrity even calls Chapman directly and asks to wear a particular design from a runway show. But will she actually don her elaborate evening gown on Hollywood's biggest night?
“I'd be sleeping so much better if I knew, but we truly don't know,” explained Chapman. “But you know, it's understandable. I'm a woman, I know how it feels when you might have a dress picked out and then it comes to that morning, you put it on, and you just don't feel good in it. Or a zipper can break, anything can happen, and I think we all know that.”
Besides Bullock, Chapman has experienced many “magical moments” when an actress steps out in her elegant, intricate creations, including Jennifer Lawrence, Gabourey Sidibe, Vera Farmiga, Olivia Munn and Jennifer Lopez.
It was 10 years ago that an A-list celebrity first wore a Marchesa design on the red carpet: Renee Zellweger. The short, red-and-gold embroidered dress turned heads at the premiere of the “Bridget Jones” sequel.
“She really took a chance on it,” said Chapman. “And she was amazing, because she really taught me about red carpet dressing. She really explained to me how an actress wanted to feel on the red carpet and explained to me about the angles, how photographers looked at the dress. And I'll forever be grateful for that.”
Now, Chapman herself is a fixture on red carpets, often alongside her movie mogul husband, Harvey Weinstein. She laughed off the suggestion that he helped in persuading stars to wear her gowns: “You know, I don't think many people are taking style advice from my husband.”
She continued: “This is my hard work. Keren's (Craig, Marchesa co-founder) and my work. It takes a team to get you there. We have an incredible workshop behind us who help us create these gowns. And I'm very grateful to the celebrities who've supported us who really didn't have to from the very beginning.”
Chapman’s own beginning in fashion began as a young girl. Her earliest memories were cutting up doll clothes her grandmother had made, drawing sketches and dressing up her cats. She and Craig, a textile designer, met at London’s Chelsea College of Arts. Since Chapman & Craig “sounded like a dentist’s office,” according to Chapman, they decided to name their new fashion line after Marchesa Luisa Casati, a rather scandalous, provocative British heiress of the early 20th century, whom Chapman describes as a “living work of art.”
Marchesa has now expanded beyond its eveningwear to a bridal collection, handbags, a ready-to-wear line and even housewares. Chapman said she and Craig ultimately see Marchesa as a lifestyle brand.
Though celebrities may be Marchesa’s most visible customers, Chapman said she’s dressed woman from all different ages, from a 12-year-old who dreams of wearing Marchesa for her Sweet 16, to an 80-year-old woman. And is there someone she’s been dying to dress?
“Oh my goodness, we have a huge list,” laughed Chapman. “Kate Middleton hasn’t worn Marchesa yet. She would be a very good one.”
ABC News' Maurice Abbate contributed to this episode.