Words by Taryn Ryder.
In the nearly two years since Harvey Weinstein was first publicly accused of sexual harassment, over 90 women have come forward with allegations against the disgraced producer. (He has denied all claims of nonconsensual sex.) While justice has yet to be served legally — he is awaiting trial in New York on sexual assault charges — Weinstein was culturally sentenced to life imprisonment. But there was another casualty in the media honcho’s overdue takedown: his former wife, Georgina Chapman.
What did she know of his alleged crimes? Tabloids and celebrities all speculated, with everyone from Anna Wintour and Alyssa Milano defending the Marchesa designer to Rose McGowan skewering her. ("My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions," Chapman said in a statement following the allegations. "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.") While Chapman's ex-husband remains a pariah, the designer has slowly been sliding back into New York society.
Video: Women Who Have Spoken Out Against Harvey Weinstein
On Wednesday, Marchesa will have a presence at New York Fashion Week again, albeit much more subdued than years prior to the scandal. Instead of a splashy runway show, the new collection will be viewed by appointment only, capping off nearly two years of turmoil. After the allegations, employees reportedly left the company as rumors circulated the brand was in trouble. Aside from the label being tied so closely to Weinstein — who allegedly bullied actresses into wearing Marchesa at events — Chapman's co-founder, Keren Craig exited the fashion house in June. So, can Chapman's Marchesa make a comeback in the era of cancel culture?
"I think she has a compelling story to tell if she so desired, but I don’t think that we can completely expect her to not try to pick up the pieces of her life and push forward," Wynter Mitchell Rohrbaugh, digital strategist and owner of Pablo Jobs, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "She can tell a story with her brand."
Rohrbaugh continues, "It has to be delicate, but she needs to let the brand do the talking first. She has to put that at the forefront. Her ex is beyond scorched earth, but she still has a journey and women being held responsible for their partner’s misdeeds is out. What’s in is charging forward and doing what you have to do independent of what people think. If she has the support and the consumer interest, why not go all in?"
Marchesa's rollout has been slow and steady over the past 16 months. After canceling their February 2018 runway show at New York Fashion Week, the brand made its first statement three months later with a little help from Scarlett Johansson. The Avengers star wore Marchesa to the Met Gala that May. Johansson, one of the voices of the Time's Up movement, was called a hypocrite on social media and had to issue a statement defending her decision. ("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," she said.) While social media's stance was obvious, Chapman forged ahead.
The designer broke her silence to Vogue in a profile published days after the 2018 Met Gala. Chapman made it clear — Marchesa wasn't going anywhere. She also said she didn't want to play the victim card. "I don’t want to be viewed as a victim," she explained, "because I don’t think I am. I am a woman in a s**t situation..." Meanwhile Chapman's confidant, Wintour, simultaneously worked to repair the brand's standing. "Georgina is a brilliant designer, and I don’t think that she should be blamed for her husband’s behavior," she stated. Having the endorsement of one of fashion's most powerful voices certainly didn't hurt.
In August 2018, Vanessa Hudgens became the second celebrity to wear Marchesa to an event. In October 2018, Priyanka Chopra wore Marchesa to her bridal shower. "Women supporting women: that’s what we’re all about," the actress said. "Georgina’s a friend of mine, and she has been, and it’s not her fault. And I don’t think it’s right to take it out on a self-made woman what somebody in her life did."
By the time the 2019 Met Gala rolled around not only was the brand represented again — Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu wore Marchesa — but Chapman herself attended the high-profile soiree. It marked Chapman's first red carpet since the Weinstein scandal.
Still, celebrities aren't flocking to Marchesa, once a red carpet staple, like they used to. Rohrbaugh, who has worked with a number of A-list stars on social media branding, says it would be up to her clients whether or not to wear Chapman’s elegant designs.
"I think it’s a personal choice, Constance Wu wore Marchesa to Met Gala and she looked lovely," Rohrbaugh replied when asked if she would advise her clients for or against wearing Chapman's designs given prior social media blowback. "I never advise my clients on fashion, I leave it to their expert stylists, but I make sure to monitor feedback no matter the subject and I think you have to stand in your truth. Marchesa is a strong brand and personally, I’d hope that Georgina could continue to uphold her legacy without being in the shadows of Harvey. It’s time for her to stand alone without that negativity blighting an otherwise formidable brand."
But can the media let that happen? Or will Marchesa forever be linked to Weinstein, who played a pivotal role in the brand’s early success?
"I think Georgina will always have an association here because of the length and visibility of her marriage to Harvey, but her actions in the immediate days following his initial disgrace are telling," a senior film and pop culture journalist tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "She seemed blindsided, and while managing an intense public humiliation, she also lent support and apologies to his accusers. The brand seems stable. I would have questioned her ability to create and maintain the level of inspired feminine beauty Marchesa is known for under the circumstances of such toxic abuse against women, but Georgina continues to produce beautiful work."
The seasoned reporter, who has covered the scandal in a variety of aspects, doesn’t believe a star wearing Marchesa on the red carpet warrants a story at this point simply with the Weinstein angle.
"Personally, I would not think [that] would be of note at this point," the journalist explained. "Unless, of course, an actress or filmmaker was wearing one in solidarity with Georgina. It would be encouraging to see her use this moment of support from people like Scarlett Johansson and Anna Wintour to engage in conversations about assault survivors or women empowerment, and even partner with or design for organizations like Dress for Success, which donates clothes to less-fortunate women seeking employment and economic independence."
Other writers, reporters and editors Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with concurred.
"If a story is about Marchesa's new collection, why does Harvey even need to be mentioned?" a writer for one of the top fashion magazines in the U.S. declared. "It's possible for one without the other. She should not have to pay for his crimes."
Chapman continues to put one foot in front of the other. Despite being given non-voting status on the CFDA board, her public appearances have become more frequent, like her attendance at the 2019 Harper's Bazaar ICONS event earlier this month. Although Marchesa’s showing at NYFW still feels quiet this season, it seems many in the industry are ready for that to change — if Chapman wants it to.