Red Carpet Style
A visit with Marchesa’s Keren Craig
Posted on July 3, 2017
It’s not secret why designers Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman named their company Marchesa. It was Infinite Variety, a biography of Marchesa Luisa Casati, the heiress and socialite who by many accounts was wildly extravagant and eccentric, that first inspired them. Craig recalls, “I told Georgina, ‘You have to read this. It’s just incredible. What if we name the line Marchesa?’” The name proved to be a perfect fit for the brand, now synonymous with dramatic, sophisticated evening wear.
“I would say Marchesa is unapologetically romantic,” says Craig, in town recently at a trunk show at Neiman Marcus in Fashion Valley featuring frothy, glamourous gowns that cost from $1,500 to $15,000-plus. “But we believe that even though you are wearing a beautiful dress, you can still be a strong, kickass woman. Wearing a pretty, romantic dress doesn’t mean you can’t go out and rule the world. Marchesa Casati liked to dress, but she was in control of her own life,” Craig says.
While Marchesa is decidedly upscale, Craig, who lives in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood with her husband and two young daughters, is approachable and down-to-earth. (Her long blonde hair, thanks to her girls, has pink highlights.) Born in Great Britain, Craig met co-founder Chapman when they were teenagers attending Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. “We knew we wanted to work together from day one,” remembers Craig, who went on to earn a textile design degree. Chapman studied costume design. Years later, after gaining industry experience, the friends were traveling in India when they decided “to go for it,” and started their label in London. Early on, they were seated near Isabella Blow, the iconic British magazine editor who took an interest in their designs. “She came up to Georgina and me and said ‘I love your dress. Who makes it?’” recalls Craig. Blow wore the dress in Paris, introduced the design duo to Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, and got them a sponsorship with Swarovski Crystal. “Blow gave us the confidence because no one was doing evening wear at the time,” says Craig. “Red carpet was not a cool thing to be doing. She was the one who really helped us in the beginning. We didn’t think we could just be evening [designers].”
They also took a cue from friend and Jimmy Choo founder Tamara Mellon, who helped to popularize the shoe brand on the red carpet by setting up shop in hotel rooms and meeting with celebrity stylists. The Marchesa team sent sketches to Renée Zellweger during the London shoot of a sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary. (Design sketches even featured the actress’ face.) The move paid off. “We made her three dresses. There was no guarantee that she was going to wear one. But lucky enough, she did. And we were on the front cover of every newspaper the next day,” recalls Craig. “She took a chance on wearing a completely unknown designer and we’ll always be very grateful for that.”
After seeing Marchesa on the red carpet, Neiman Marcus approached the designers to carry the line. Craig says the company was especially helpful because, at the time, Marchesa’s operation was very small and they didn’t have the production capability. Neiman Marcus introduced them to partners in New York. “We came in 2005 and never left,” says Craig.
Many more celebrities would go on to wear Marchesa, including Sandra Bullock, when she accepted her Best Actress Oscar in 2010 for The
Blind Side, Chrissy Teigen and Rita Ora at the recent Met Gala, and more recently, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Blake Lively, Halle Berry, Kate Beckinsale, Kate Hudson, Kerry Washington, Naomi Watts, Olivia Wilde, and Selena Gomez are also fans.
While grateful for all the celebrities who wear Marchesa on the red carpet, Craig is very interested in the real-life women who buy their designs. “The important thing is coming to stores where you see the women who are actually buying your dresses, the women who actually pay money to buy your product. That’s the most important person to pay attention to, why they’re buying, what their feeling is, because at the end of the day, these women don’t need another dress. It’s the lust.”
So, the challenge is figuring out what makes that ‘lust’ factor. “You have to figure it out,” Craig says. “They want something special, they want to make a statement. We’re not quiet in our dresses.” Just like namesake Marchesa Casati. marchesa.com Andrea Naversen
Keren Craig: Photo by Bob Stefanko Marchesa designs: Photography by Tim Hardy