By  on January 20, 2005

LOS ANGELES — When Cate Blanchett required a dress for the Rome premiere of Martin Scorcese’s Oscar contender, “The Aviator,” in early January, designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig — the London duo behind the just-launched Marchesa label — hopped on a plane.

It was a complete surprise to Blanchett and her stylist, Jessica Paster, when they arrived in Rome.

“I absolutely love Keren and George!” Paster said. “They showed me this beautiful gold dress with an Indian feel, perfect for Cate. I had it on the rack along with a Christian Dior and an Alexander McQueen, but Cate loved this dress the best. So the girls just showed up for the premiere and ran around, helping me out to get shoes, jewelry. They’re amazing. Beyond talented.”

If it takes a have-dress-will-travel m.o. to get noticed, then Chapman and Craig have certainly triumphed. Renée Zellweger also has become a fan, showing off a ruby shift, also cut from an Indian silk sari, at the London premiere of “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” last November.

“I saw the Marchesa sketches and thought they were very special,” Zellweger said. “I liked their appreciation of beautiful fabrics and tailoring and was very excited by the opportunity to wear a new British designer to a London premiere.”

And Marchesa secured yet another Hollywood golden girl when Diane Kruger — the much-hyped beauty in “Troy” who is currently starring in the blockbuster “National Treasure” — showed up at the Golden Globes in a somewhat tricky look that caught plenty of photographers’ flashbulbs.

“They are very talented, fresh and different,” Kruger said Tuesday night. Her Globes choice — an unstructured piece that draped to generously expose the side curves of her body — was a departure from other Marchesa dresses. Not everyone loved it, making it water-cooler chat this week among Globes viewers. “You can’t dress to make other people happy,” responded Kruger. “You should wear what you like. To me, the dress was not really that daring. I just thought it was really special.”

Not that there were many Marchesa looks to choose from. The designers’ use of hand-stitched hems and seams, hand-embroidery and intricate corseting have limited production to just nine dresses since their label got off the ground in April 2004, and they have yet to price out any of their pieces.The dresses, however, have stirred interest. Chapman and Craig scheduled back-to-back appointments with a roster of celebrity stylists just a week after the Golden Globes and set up a showroom on the top-floor suite at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

“We’re getting more pieces soon, another three in the coming weeks,” Craig said, almost apologetically. The designers employ a staff of four in the Marchesa studio in London’s Soho neighborhood. “We only decided to come to L.A. just before Christmas,” Craig said. “We had some requests for the Globes, so we made a couple new dresses quickly and brought mostly everything we had.”

Craig, who lived on a Swiss ashram for a few years before her parents moved the family back to London, often wears a band or scarf and an eclectic array of vintage jewelry; Chapman, with her brunette bangs and ponytail, was born and raised in London with a younger brother. The designers met at the Chelsea School of Art in the late Nineties, and after Craig went on to study textile design and Chapman focused on costume and theater design, the two decided to collaborate on a collection.

“It feels like costume design to some point,” Chapman said of their recent work dressing celebrities for the red carpet. “If you talk to an actress, you get an essence of who she is, much like with a character.”

While the line, which is being backed by Giuseppe Cipriani, will make its official debut this July with a presentation during couture week in Paris, Chapman and Craig also plan to develop a ready-to-wear collection that will feature wide-legged trousers, jackets and dresses. “It won’t require mortgaging the house to own,” laughed Craig, in a nod to an earlier reference that it might take just that to own one of their couture dresses.

“At the moment, you have jeans or tracksuits as choices,” Chapman said. “We want to do elegant, everyday clothes for women, so comfortable that when you get home you won’t want to take them off.”

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