Photograph by Jason Kempin via Getty Images.

Marchesa Is Staging a Comeback, But It Returns to a Changed World

The world has moved on from the look that Marchesa symbolized.

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Aug 23 2018, 7:49pm

Photograph by Jason Kempin via Getty Images.

WWD reported this morning that several fashion stylists are speaking out in support of Marchesa, the red carpet brand designed by Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig, and that the brand is hoping to “make a comeback” at September’s Emmys. Stylists Micah Schifman (who works with Sarah Silverman), Jessica Paster (multiple clients including Olivia Munn and Frieda Pinto), and Tara Swennen (Kristen Stewart), among others, put themselves in Marchesa’s corner: “I hope we’ve all gained an awareness from the first part of awards season,” Swennen said. “As a woman, I would support Georgina and Keren because they are artists making beautiful gowns.”

But does anyone really want the Marchesa look?

The “return” of Marchesa has been a landmine in fashion over the past several months. Scarlet Johansson attended the Met Gala in early May in a Marchesa dress—the first person to wear the brand since the allegations against Weinstein were reported in early October in The New York Times and The New Yorker—and was met with infuriated confusion. When Vogue’s June issue featured a major interview with Chapman, and an accompanying editor’s letter from Anna Wintour about why we ought to clear the air and give Chapman’s brand another chance, many outlets argued that Chapman’s fashion brand was perhaps the least significant collateral in the Weinstein scandal, which includes multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape and even sex traffic, as well as many actresses who claim their careers suffered as a result of their experiences with the producer.

The brand cancelled its last New York Fashion Week show in February; this season, the brand is holding appointments, rather than a show or presentation, suggesting it’s keen to focus on buyers and stylists, rather than press.

“I think it’s about what’s happening now,” stylist George Kotsiopoulos (who once worked with Kerry Washington) told WWD. “What happened before is irrelevant. If Georgina can start fresh, wipe the slate clean, I think she has a huge chance because who wouldn’t want to support her? People liked Georgina and Keren. That goes a long way. And they were pretty dresses.”

About those “pretty dresses”: should Marchesa stage a “comeback,” it faces another major hurdle aside from its already troubled history. Though it missed just one season on the fashion calendar, Marchesa will find itself returning to a changed world.

When Johansson appeared at the Met Gala in Marchesa, she looked, well, a lot of things: pretty, famous, puzzling—and passé.

The Madame X-silhouette, the tulle fabric, the ombré skirt, the pageant-like vine of rosebud appliques—these are all vestiges of an earlier time, when Weinstein still held court over Hollywood and the visual imprint of female celebrity. That was when we had an almost cartoonish idea of what it meant to “look like an actress”—a vision that Marchesa helped hone. It meant something very narrow (literally): thin, white, glamorous in a palatable way—retro. The strapless fishtail dress is a silhouette practically unchanged since the 1950s, and it was one from which those who were famous and those who hoped to be did not stray.

That is no longer the red carpet standard. This reality may seem small or petty, but it is not: the aesthetic changes of the red carpet reflect much larger shifts in Hollywood, the music industry, and pop culture. Because of Time’s Up, the red carpet is no longer a place where women are expected to preen and purr a designer name, but a place to call for change and speak out (albeit sometimes awkwardly). And while actors have seen the benefit of making more daring fashion choices on the carpet for years now—thank you, Lupita!—designers and talent (whether they be actors or musicians) are now more seriously collaborating as fellow artists, rather than searching for the right “face” and body for the brand, personal or corporate.

In part, this cultural shift on the carpet is the result of the changing role of the stylist: the Hollywood power stylist emerged over the past decade or so as makers of taste, stars, and deals. But now, the stylist often works in tandem with the designer and actor or musician as equal talents rather than serving as a custodian of the client’s taste. Cardi B has as many opinions about taste as her stylist Kollin Carter; Beyoncé as much stylistic instinct as any of her many fashion collaborators. As stylist Law Roach, who works with Zendaya and Celine Dion (!!), told The Cut for their must-read feature on what it’s like to be black and work in fashion, “Things would change if more prominent black actresses or actors would use black creatives. If my client goes to the Oscars and does the whole awards season, then so do I. My visibility as a stylist goes up and keeps up.” Inclusion and representation are now urgent priorities in the entertainment industry; that much was clear on Monday’s VMA’s red carpet, where it was evident that designers like Gucci, Versace, and Off-White are imagining a much different audience than the one Chapman and Craig fantasize about.

Even brand spokeswomen like Kristen Stewart, who works with Chanel, put a discernible personal imprint on their publicity appearances. The idea that there is a one-size-or-nothing movie star costume is entirely out of step with the role fashion now plays in popular culture. If Marchesa really wants to make a comeback, it needs to bring itself into the minds of the stylists and talent who are much more socially engaged—and powerful—than they’ve ever been before.