A&E Interview: Meet Marchesa’s Designer Duo

Lara Mansour   |   17-05-2018


New York-based label Marchesa was established in 2004 by British-born design duo Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig. Named after the Marchesa, meaning Marquise in Italian, Luisa Casati, an eccentric, Belle Époque high priestess, the brand is synonymous with red carpet events and frothy bridalwear, counting Hollywood A-listers Blake Lively and Nicole Kidman as fans.

The two ladies are the definition of power women. They first met as students during a life drawing class at London’s Chelsea College of Art & Design when they were 17, and years later Marchesa was born. The year following their launch they dressed their first-ever celebrity client, Renée Zellweger, who wore a sari-inspired strapless gown for the London premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and since then their gowns have graced many red carpets before taking to the wedding aisle.

Both Chapman and Craig cite such classic French patternmakers as Madame Grès, the godmother of the Grecian gown, and Madeleine Vionnet as influences, as well as flamboyant fellow Brits Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. They are experts on the statement gown and their creative process is a collaboration at every level. It’s Chapman who sets the tone for each collection, including ready-to-wear, bridal, and Notte, a diffusion line, and Craig who rules over the sumptuous textiles and embellishments.

Building a fashion empire from the ground up, the duo talk to us about their particular brand of elegant opulence mixes vintage-inspired embroidery with intricate draping, and how their gowns lend an ethereal touch to every red carpet or high-profile wedding they grace.

How did your journey in fashion begin?

GEORGINA CHAPMAN: I was always very interested in fashion. My mother is extremely stylish, so I think a love of fashion was something that I developed early on and has carried through. I studied costume design in art school, I was so fascinated by the idea of escapism in costume and the historical context behind fashion.

KEREN CRAIG: My passion has always been in art, textiles, and fashion. I was always obsessed with party dresses even from a young age. I guess you can say that things haven’t changed much!

Can you tell us about how you started Marchesa?

BOTH: We first met when we were students at Chelsea Art College and instantly clicked. We had so much in common and had similar passions for both design and travel. It was early on when we began talking about having a business together, but it wasn’t until 2003 during a vacation in India that we decided to start Marchesa.

What is your design aesthetic?

BOTH: Marchesa is named after the eccentric Italian heiress, Marchesa Luisa Casati. She had an incredibly dramatic and playful approach to fashion, her outfits were like works of art. We always embody her spirit through our collections but translate them for today’s woman through our silhouettes, textiles, and embroidery.

Tell us about your favourite signature fabrics?

BOTH: We enjoy working with different textiles, however, you will always find varying tulles, laces and silks throughout our collections.

Who is the Marchesa woman?

BOTH: The Marchesa woman is confident and glamorous but doesn’t follow trends. She certainly evolves with time, as have our collections. More recently, we’ve introduced separates into our seasonal Couture and Notte collections, allowing for more versatility in her look, but still possessing the same femininity and elegance that Marchesa is known for.

Tell us about the differences between your mainline Marchesa and the Notte line?

BOTH: There are many parallels between our Marchesa and Marchesa Notte collections. While our Marchesa Couture collection lends itself to black tie affair, Marchesa Notte employs the same aesthetic but applied to effortless silhouettes that work for a casual cocktail event or a gala.

Can you share with us a milestone moment in your career?

BOTH: One of our biggest milestones to date was celebrating our 10-year anniversary and showing our collection in London for the first time in 2014. While we are based in the United States, we are both English and were excited to partner with the British Fashion Council and bring our collection home for this milestone!

What is your creative process like, and what part do you enjoy the most?

BOTH: To start, our collections are always heavily influenced by the sense of adventure and excitement that comes from travel and culture. Once we have decided on our inspiration for the season, we begin conceptualising and bringing that concept to life, starting by preparing mood boards and from there we begin sketching and the creation process.

How do you balance the duties of design when working as a duo? Do you ever disagree on design matters?

GEORGINA: Our skillsets complement each other quite well which is why we work so well together! My role in the process is really conceptualising the collection whether it be through sketching or draping across a form.

KEREN: My focus is on developing the textiles and embroideries for each collection, from creating hand-painted prints for our silks to developing new appliques and different embellishments.

What is your favourite thing about each other? What do you respect most about each other?

GEORGINA: Keren and I have known each other for years, she is one of my best friends and has always been a source of inspiration. We both love what we do and to do it together is a dream!

KEREN: We have known each for so long, so working together is like working with your sister! We both share the same vision and work closely together to execute it.

Tell us about why you decided to expand into bridalwear?

BOTH: Creating a bridal collection was a natural next step for our brand, before we introduced bridal, brides-to-be would frequently request gowns from our collection in white. We love the idea of being part of such a special moment in a woman’s life and are thrilled to offer bridal options for all women through our Marchesa Bridal and Marchesa Notte Bridal collections.

How is the process different when designing either red-carpet gowns or bridalwear?

BOTH: The process of designing our mainline and our bridal lines are incredibly similar from creating mood boards to sketching, draping, and creating the embroideries. For us, creating our bridal collections is such an honour, Marchesa is a quintessentially romantic brand, and with bridal we can embrace that to the fullest extent.

What makes the perfect bridal gown?

BOTH: The perfect wedding gown is different for each woman. The most important part is that she feels beautiful, confident, and comfortable in whatever that dress may be.

Can you share with us the golden rules of wedding dress shopping?

BOTH: One of the most important things to consider when looking for your wedding dress is considering your venue, is your wedding on a beach or is it in a more traditional setting as it should play a part in determining your silhouette and accessories. It is also important that you feel comfortable in your dress, we think a bride’s wedding dress should reflect her personal style and she should decide based on what makes her feel beautiful, rather than adhering to the current trends.

Tell us about your recent Fall 2018 bridal collection?

BOTH: This collection was one of our most versatile and modern bridal collections yet. We really embraced today’s bride by introducing modern silhouettes that still played to Marchesa’s heritage. The collection boasts traditional style gowns with removable overskirts for the bride that wants to change her look from the ceremony to the reception, in addition to cocktail dresses paired with an opera coat. No matter the silhouette, the same craftmanship and Marchesa aesthetic is employed throughout.

Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?

BOTH: We are so close to each piece as so much time and effort goes into bringing the collection to life, it is impossible to pick a favourite!

Should you follow trends when buying a wedding dress or go for timeless styles?

BOTH: We always focus on creating timeless designs when working on a collection rather than adhering to the seasonal trends. A woman’s wedding dress is a memory they hold on to forever, they should be able to look back at photos years later and still love the dress that they wore on their special day.

Can you share your top 3 tips for choosing the perfect wedding dress?

Don’t be afraid to try on a style you didn’t think you’d like or wanted! You might be surprised by how flattering a silhouette or style is that you haven’t tried before.

Pay attention to the smaller details of the dress such as the beadwork and embroideries, these elements can elevate the look and make your dress feel special.

Pick the dress that you feel most comfortable in, you always look and feel your best when you feel confident in what you are wearing, and your wedding dress is no exception.

Can you share with us your recipe for instant glamour?

BOTH: Attitude! You can of course create glamour through what you wear, but ultimately, feeling glamorous is about confidence and poise.

Who are the most memorable brides that you have dressed?

BOTH: We’ve had the pleasure of dressing so many women over the years on their special day including Blake Lively, Emily Blunt, and Julianne Hough, amongst many others. It’s always so thrilling when we see a bride wear a Marchesa creation on her wedding and to be part of such a special moment in their lives.

With online shopping becoming so popular, do you think this will change the way brides shop?

BOTH: We feel that the process of finding your wedding dress is an incredibly intimate and personal experience, whether that means going to a salon with your friends and family to find that perfect dress or purchasing online, that experience should feel natural for the bride.

What do you think of the trend for brides to wear multiple dresses on their wedding day, from the bridal gown, to numerous different party dresses?

BOTH: We think it’s great, a woman should be able to showcase their personality and personal style on her special day however she chooses. There are so many brides who want a more traditional gown for her ceremony but are looking to have something lighter that she can dance the night away in. We embrace this at Marchesa and offer different silhouettes that give brides options.

What are the ultimate wedding accessories to complement a bridal look?

BOTH: Accessories are such an important part of your wedding day look. While there is no formula for finding the perfect accessory, we recommend more subdued accessories when you have a dress with heavy embellishment and for a more minimalistic gown pairing it with a statement earring or necklace. One of the most important accessories on your wedding day is your veil, while this may not be for everyone, it’s such a classic element. When else will you get a chance to wear one?

Can you share with us what is next on the agenda when it comes to product lines for Marchesa?

BOTH: We’ve always envisioned Marchesa as a lifestyle brand, which is reflected through our collections, in addition to our accessories. Looking forward we are excited to continue offering women beautiful gowns and separates for every occasion!

By Eliza Scarborough



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