Georgina Chapman: designer to the stars
At the Golden Globes tonight any number of stars might be wearing Georgina Chapman's dresses for Marchesa. The Brit girl talks about how she seduced Hollywood.
Sitting opposite Georgina Chapman in the West Village studio where her multimillion dollar business resides, it is hard not to feel just the tiniest bit grubby.
While the rest of New York is a sea of Michelin Men, wrapped up in layer upon layer to combat the freeze, the designer and co-founder of the red-carpet fashion label Marchesa looks impeccable. She is wearing a white Lanvin blouse (white, she says, to mask her five-month-old daughter's sick, and Lanvin, because, well, just because), black leather Helmut Lang trousers and a pair of heeled black and white Louboutin brogues, which are very Bugsy Malone
Her hair is advert glossy and her face is perfect, like a less bloodthirsty Angelina Jolie. She has not lost any of her British public-school accent to New York in the five years she has been there and her laugh comes often, loudly, and is extraordinarily infectious.
She takes me on a tour of the Marchesa studio. There is her corner office, overlooking Manhattan (the Empire State Building out of one window, a bottle of Ribena in front of another) filled with odes to her family - a cot, framed photographs of Chapman, 34, and her husband, the film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a wall filled with A4 portraits of their baby, India.
We walk through the dressmaking studio, where mannequins are sheathed in silks, satins, netting and beads, down corridors lined with Louboutins - the footwear worn at every Marchesa catwalk show - and into the reception where some of the label's best pieces are on display alongside a new line of floral-printed china, evening bags and make-up. It is an impressive set-up, yet still intimate enough for Chapman to know all of her 40 staff by name.
In the six years since its inception, Marchesa, named after the flamboyant Belle Epoque heiress Marchesa Luisa Casati, has come to rule the red carpet. At tonight's Golden Globes awards there will be a smattering of starlets wearing Chapman's show-stopping designs, although exactly who, she says, she may not know until days before the event.
At last year's Oscars Sandra Bullock picked up her Best Actress statuette in Marchesa, declaring on Oprah that wearing the gold, beaded gown was a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunitye_SSRq. In the past year the label has been worn by twentysomethings Rihanna, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart, and red-carpet faithfuls such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Demi Moore. Together with her business partner and friend from art school in London, Keren Craig, Chapman has created the big-night-out brand for the rich and famous, and those with a credit card that can take it.
'I am a control freak,' she says, with that gutsy laugh. Is she a workaholic? 'No… well, yes, I am.' Another laugh. 'New York is very career-orientated and it's hard to take time off here, but that is great for building a business. When you're doing something like this, you're never away from your work; you think about it all the time.'
Chapman's work ethic mirrors that of Weinstein. While she will be dressing the A-list for the Golden Globes, the studio head will doubtless be scooping up awards. His films The King's Speech and Blue Valentine are up for 10 Globes between them.
While Weinstein's reputation among his peers is of a man who knows what he wants, and who is unafraid to speak his mind, Chapman positively radiates praise for him as a husband.
'I feel as if I don't work at all around Harvey,' she says. 'I feel like the laziest person when I see his schedule. What I love about my husband is that he really allows me to be the best person I can. He's never, ever tried to stop me or keep me down. He's just so supportive. He's got this amazing ability where I always feel safe with him, and that allows you to go forth in life and do things that perhaps you wouldn't have had the courage to do before. He is also extremely business-savvy and an incredible sounding-board. Being older, he has a lot more experience than I do. He has this huge wealth of knowledge. He's like an encyclopedia, and he's got such an exciting mind, which I find very attractive.'
Weinstein is 24 years older than Chapman, to be precise. The two have been together since 2005, and married in 2007 in Connecticut, where they have a house. Superficially, it is an unusual marriage, and it would be easy to dismiss Chapman as a trophy bride. Weinstein's contacts certainly haven't hindered her success, yet it is her determination that has made Marchesa what it is today. She started the business in her west London flat, making one-off dresses for a small customer base, before moving to a tiny office in Soho. She then approached Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo to get advice on making her label a global success.
'Tamara said that she went out to the Peninsula [Hotel] in Los Angeles at awards season, met with all the stylists and got her shoes on girls for the red carpet,' she tells me. 'So Keren and I went out to the Peninsula, and set up our dresses, of which there were only about 10, and met people, one being [the celebrity stylist] Rachel Zoe. Then we got in touch with a publicist called Nanci Ryder and asked her to represent us. Renée Zellweger happened to be one of her clients, and she told us to send her sketches. Renée chose one and she was the first celebrity to wear Marchesa.'
Nowadays that celebrity endorsement is invaluable to their business. Unlike many of their red-carpet rivals, Marchesa does not advertise, instead relying on coverage of its dresses at events to spread the word. 'When we first launched Marchesa it was really about utilising coverage of events in the weekly magazines to get our name out there.' Chapman has worked extraordinarily hard to make her company a success. Three days after giving birth to her and Weinstein's first child in August last year she was back at work doing final fittings for New York fashion week.
'I don't really remember anything about that time. It's all a bit of a fog,' she says, taking a bite of cherry cake and a sip from the disgusting-looking NanoGreens energy drink she swears by. 'I had a week off after fashion week, but then we do bridal, which shows four weeks later. It's amazing to have a career like this, but you can't have everything. I want to be a mother as well, so you have to make it work. I couldn't just say, "See ya!" to everyone for three months. I'm so lucky to have this career, so I can't complain about not taking maternity leave.'
She brings India to the studio as much as possible. She tells me, excitedly, that the baby will be coming in at the end of our interview so I can say hello. Sure enough, an hour later a nanny arrives with the tiny Weinstein, hair almost as glossy and thick as her mother's and the same blue, blue eyes. Chapman is clearly completely besotted. She had some training in parenthood prior to India's birth; when she married Weinstein she inherited three stepdaughters, Lily, 15, Emma, 13, and Ruthie, eight, from his first marriage.
'I love children. I've always loved children,' she says. 'In my relationship before, I was living with somebody for several years and he had a little boy who was with us a lot. In life you just go with things and as long as you try to be as kind as you can and treat kids like you would want your own kids to be treated, and keep your fingers crossed, that's all you can do. But I'm very lucky; they're great kids.'
Chapman herself grew up in Richmond, south-west London, in what sounds like an idyllic family set-up. She attended Marlborough, the same school as Kate Middleton, whose wedding dress, she says, she would 'love to be considered for' (she also made 'about 10' dresses for Coleen Rooney's never-ending nuptials). She went to art school in Chelsea, then, after a brief stint waitressing, working as a cloakroom attendant and sharpening skis in the dingy basement of a sports shop, she was spotted and asked to model, something she did for six years, with a little bit of acting on the side.
Her father, an entrepreneur, and mother, a journalist, encouraged their daughter to follow her dreams into the fashion world. Her younger brother, Edward, is the chief executive of Marchesa and lives in New York, where they have just bought their mother an apartment so that she can spend a few months of the year 'and help baby-sit.
'Family is incredibly important to me,' she says. 'My childhood really instilled that. That is why my brother and I work together. My parents were great in letting me be what I wanted to be. My mum said I was playing with fabric and scissors and drawing from the age of three or four. She was the one who packed my bags and sent me off travelling for two years when I was 19. Now I am a mother I think that was so brave of her. I look at my daughter and think I could never do that. Never leave me!'
Chapman tries to get back to London as much as possible, usually four times a year, although her travel plans are hampered by an unfashionable fear of flying. 'I've got much better recently,' she says. 'When I was pregnant one of my main things was, "How am I going to be able to do this without a drink or a Xanax?" I thought the fear alone might hurt the baby, so I pulled myself together and I was fine for the first time in my life. I used to get hysterical. The more I flew, the worse it would get, because I'd think, "I've got away with it so many times. Now something's bound to happen." But
I miss London a lot, and it's still home to me.'
The speed with which Chapman's label has come to adorn the backs of the world's most fashionable is quite incredible, even to her. 'I thought I would just be designing one-off dresses for people and having a small business,' she says. 'You dream of getting to one place, and then you think, "Ooh, there's another level," and suddenly I'm doing plates and handbags. But I still love walking into a party and seeing that someone has actually bought one of my dresses, as much as dressing somebody for the Oscars. It is important to step back and think, "Actually, this is really amazing and exciting," and to appreciate what you have, because otherwise what is the point in doing it? There are times when I get starstruck, like when we were at the White House for a private Paul McCartney concert. I was pregnant at the time, and I remember thinking, "I can't wait to tell my daughter she's been to the White House." So there are times when I still find things really exciting, and there are times when I'm just exhausted.'
Exhausted she may be, but it is unlikely that her schedule will slow down in the near future. Perhaps you can have it all, perhaps you can't, but while Chapman is figuring it out, for now pinning dresses with one hand and holding a baby with the other is just how she will have to manage.