The Style of Marchesa
Designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig create luxury eveningwear that is unapologetically feminine.
When it comes to dressing women for special occasions, the Marchesa name has become a mainstay. Best friends Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig, who met while they were studying at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, launched the brand in 2004 and had instant success with their feminine creations, now celebrity red-carpet favourites. The designers bring different skills to the collections: Craig, 36, is an expert on textiles, and Chapman, also 36, began her career as a costume designer and is the creator of the brand’s designs and draping.
Though Marchesa is sold at more than a hundred locations around the world and has a fervent fan base, the British-bred duo aren’t satisfied with just one label. Besides the main line, they have a diffusion collection called Notte, the fragrance Parfum d’Extase, and Marchesa Voyage, a contemporary collection making its debut this fall. Chapman spoke with Four Seasons Magazine recently about the label’s iconic red-carpet looks, her advice for dressing up and the one area of formal dressing she won’t go near.
Can you talk about how you got into the fashion world?
It’s never been a question to me that this is what I was going to do. I have loved designing for as long as I can remember. I grew up in London and started making my own clothes at 13, and when I was 14, I even got an offer to make clothes at a shop on King’s Lane, which I didn’t take. I’m lucky that designing worked out for me professionally, because I don’t know what else I would have done.
What was the path that led you and Keren to work together, and how do you deal with any creative differences?
We met when we were 17 at school and became best friends. We always wanted to do something together, so it wasn’t a surprise when we finally did. And people don’t believe me when I say that we don’t have creative differences, but we really don’t, because we do different things for the label—I deal with designs and draping while she handles textiles, so we are never treading on each other’s toes.
Can you describe the Marchesa design aesthetic?
It’s eveningwear for special occasions. It’s a romantic label that’s unapologetically feminine and has an ethereal sense.
Why did you decide to focus on eveningwear?
A few weeks after we launched, we got an invite to a Louis Vuitton party in London and decided to make our own dresses for it using sari fabric. Isabella Blow, the late fashion editor, was there and asked me where I got the dress I was wearing, and when I told her I designed it, she pushed me to focus on dresses. I never thought you could build a brand by being niche like this, but I feel lucky we were able to.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere. It could be a book or a painting. I spend hours going through images. Inspiration comes to me in the middle of the night. And once it does, I build mood boards that are 12 feet big.
What fabrics do you find appealing and think work well for eveningwear?
I use everything from tulles to silks to embroideries, and it changes depending on the dress. For a floaty dress, you want chiffon; with a ball gown, you want tulle; for a figure-hugging piece, crêpe works because it fits tightly. It’s so broad and goes on and on.
Who do you think is the ideal Marchesa woman?
I don’t like to pigeonhole, because when I meet my customers, I see a broad selection of women who respond to us. When I was in Florida at a trunk show, for example, a mother had brought her 10-year-old daughter who wanted to see the collection. She heard about us because we had dressed Miley Cyrus, and she was a big fan of hers. Then at the same show, another woman came up and showed me a picture of her 85-year-old grandmother in one of our couture gowns.
What advice do you have for men who need to dress for a special occasion?
I can’t say I have any! I’ve never thought about doing men’s clothes, and don’t see us doing so. We are too feminine.