Diane von Furstenberg is among those who've rallied around the designer as stars begin to wear the brand again: "It's disturbing when women are penalized for the crimes of an abuser."
On March 15, after six months in hiding, Georgina Chapman emerged from her West Village brownstone in New York. The 41-year-old British fashion designer — who had in 2007 hitched herself and her brand, Marchesa, to Hollywood's biggest indie producer, Harvey Weinstein — returned to work for the first time since the Oct. 5 New York Times exposé about her husband's alleged sexual abuses broke. She also summoned the courage to attend a fashion function, a board meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Clad in tight leather pants, a black tailored jacket and kitten heels, she walked into a gathering of her peers, including fellow Project Runway judge Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger and CFDA chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg, unsure of what to expect. The room broke out in applause.
"We were all happy to see her," says von Furstenberg. "Georgina is a great designer, engaged board member, devoted mother and good friend. We all support her." But as soon as she left the building, Chapman was mobbed by paparazzi. "She was so upset — she doesn't know who tipped them off,'' says a close friend. "She feels she can't go anywhere without being descended upon, and she is very worried about the safety of her children."
The Times revelations that kicked off a tsunami of harassment claims in Hollywood and beyond also left Chapman shell-shocked, with the future of Marchesa, her eveningwear and bridal line, in question. But with powerful fashion figures like von Furstenberg now coming to her defense, retail sales holding steady and signs of a return of the brand to the red carpet, the future may be looking up.
Co-founded in 2004 with design partner Keren Craig and headed by Georgina's brother Edward Chapman as CEO, Marchesa had been a mainstay on Hollywood red carpets, worn by A-listers — many of whom starred in Weinstein films, from Renee Zellweger to Felicity Huffman, with some pressured to wear the gowns by the mogul. When the extent of Weinstein's sexual assault allegations came to light, it looked like his wife's business would be collateral damage.
In the first few days after the news broke, there were so many incendiary messages about Weinstein and Chapman on the Marchesa Instagram feed, some accusing her of complicity, that the comments section was turned off. Within a week, Chapman announced she was leaving the disgraced mogul, but the damage was done. On Oct. 11, Kansas City-based Helzberg Diamonds canceled a licensed jewelry collaboration, and Craig was sent on the road solo to represent the brand at a Neiman Marcus trunk show in Chicago on Oct. 25.
There were glimmers of sympathy. Diane Kruger sent a note of support, and even as the Time's Up movement swept through Hollywood, some in the entertainment industry whispered that Chapman was a victim, too. "I couldn't stand to be in a room with him one hour; I don't know how she did it for a lifetime," says an actress who has worn Marchesa and attended the brand's presentations.
Chapman canceled her Christmas ski vacation to Gstaad, Switzerland, where for the past 10 years she had taken a suite for herself, Harvey, their two kids and nannies at the Palace hotel. The fee this year totaled more than $50,000. It used to be that "you could always see Harvey wheeling and dealing on his phone in the lobby, or hanging out with Quentin Tarantino or Roman Polanski," says society publicist R. Couri Hay, who also makes an annual pilgrimage to the Swiss retreat. "She loved going there but realized because Madonna and Valentino also go to Gstaad holiday time, there was no way she could avoid the public glare." In the end, Chapman went to England to be with her family.
After the new year, with New York Fashion Week fast approaching, industry watchers wondered if Chapman would actually go through with the Marchesa runway show, often held at the tony St. Regis Hotel with Weinstein sitting in the front row next to Vogue's Anna Wintour, who attended the couple's wedding. Reports from inside the fashion house's West 26th Street corporate office were that the staff was in disarray and the CEO unsure how to plot a public response.
It didn't help that Edward Chapman, who married Katy Schell on Harbor Island in December, had experienced his own past troubles. In 2012, while living with girlfriend Brooke Gehan and after a night of drinking at the Boom Boom Room, he allegedly tried to choke her, according to Page Six. Gehan called the police but by the next day refused to press charges, saying it was a misunderstanding. According to people close to the situation, Weinstein was annoyed by the scandal, and Gehan was paid off and signed an NDA.
As the Marchesa show drew closer, insiders say Chapman became more fearful. Although she and Craig had for years provided a red dress for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women charity fashion show, the brand was conspicuously absent from the Feb. 8 event hosted by Marisa Tomei. On Jan. 31, the Marchesa show was officially scrapped. Instead, the spring collection was released online, modeled by Chapman's longtime friend model-singer Karen Elson. Says a confidante, "This has all been extremely difficult, challenging and heartbreaking. The fact that it has affected Marchesa is extremely upsetting. The team is a second family to her.''
Since Chapman's CFDA outing, she was spotted having lunch with a friend and on an excursion north of the city with Weinstein's daughter Lily, 23, from his marriage to Eve Chilton. But between paparazzi incidents and Weinstein selling their properties, her safe havens have dwindled. In January, he unloaded their Amagansett, New York, house for $10 million, and in March, their Connecticut house and Manhattan brownstone were sold, for $16 million and $25.6 million, respectively. While the latter sale is closing, Chapman will continuing living there with her children, India Rose, 7, and Dashiell, 4, as she searches for another home in the city.
Chapman has not exactly been left destitute, with a reported divorce settlement of an estimated $15 million to $20 million, but those who think that her marriage to Weinstein is what put her in the one percent would be mistaken. Her father, Brian Chapman, founded Percol coffee and became a multimillionaire, and Georgina attended Marlborough College, Kate Middleton's alma mater. According to one insider, it was Georgina's mother, Caroline Wonfor, a British journalist, who encouraged her to marry Weinstein.
There could be a happy ending yet, at least where the company is concerned. Although there was a steep decline in the number of stars seen wearing Marchesa at the end of last year, since January the label has been worn at public events at least a dozen times, albeit by lesser-known actresses, according to fashion data firm Spotted. "I thought it might be misconstrued," admits How I Met Your Mother's Celeste Thorson, 33, who wore a red lace Marchesa to a March 9 American Red Cross gala and tagged it on Instagram. "But if it created the opportunity to discuss why women should be recognized as autonomous individuals, independent of a man's misconduct, that's important," she says, adding that Chapman "divorced him and as far as I know didn't commit any crimes. It's disturbing when women are penalized for the crimes of an abuser."
Although the privately held Marchesa does not release sales and profit numbers, it continues to be stocked by Net-a-Porter, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, which has expanded its assortment of gowns ($2,995-$8,995) for spring. Some industry experts point to Chapman's decision not to publicly address her husband's misconduct as part of the reason Marchesa hasn't taken more of a hit.
"When figuring out how to be in the limelight again, it's better to do it right, do it authentically and build it into a long-term business plan instead of just saying 'MeToo,'" says Metaforce branding expert Allen Adamson. "She has enough connections in Hollywood and she's being smart about staying quiet until she figures out how to relaunch." Still, it's going to be a rough road, especially since hobnobbing at social events, from the Cannes amfAR gala to Ron Perelman's Apollo in the Hamptons bash — the last event in 2017 where she and Weinstein appeared together — has played such a part in Chapman's life and Marchesa's branding. She's now deciding whether to do the Hamptons at all this summer.
Daughter India Rose rides at Stony Hill Stables in Amagansett and competes in the Hampton Classic. "That's too visible a place now," says a friend. "She has to find somewhere not so social. She wants her kids to have as childlike lives as possible.'' He adds, "India is very astute and aware. Georgina is doing a good job shielding them from what they shouldn't know as children."
This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.