In his 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians, author Kevin Kwan builds the world of ultra-wealthy Singaporean society by cheekily (and sometimes bitingly) name-checking every high-end fashion designer and luxury brand under the sun. On the big screen, that lavish sensibility finds a happy home. The movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, out this Wednesday, is “a cinematic jewel box, each compartment brimming with jaw-dropping opulence and brilliant luster,” writes Vox culture reporter Alex Abad-Santos.
In a sea of Armani and Dior, one dress stands out: an ethereal, pale blue Marchesa gown worn by Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), the film’s Chinese-American heroine.
An economics professor in New York, Rachel agrees to travel with her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore, only to discover that Nick’s family is wildly wealthy and anything but welcoming toward her. It’s an underdog story, and that dress, which figures heavily in the movie’s trailer, cues what director Jon M. Chu called Rachel’s “Cinderella moment.”
This is more than a pretty dress. Marchesa is designed by Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife, Georgina Chapman, and for years, the brand benefited from its relationship with the powerful film producer. Marchesa’s appearance in Crazy Rich Asians perfectly illustrates the pedestal from which the label — widely recognized as Hollywood’s go-to brand for romantic, princessy evening gowns — suddenly tumbled last year.
After months of silence, Marchesa has begun its comeback
Shortly after the New Yorker and New York Times published explosive reports on decades of sexual assault allegations against Weinstein, Chapman announced that she was leaving him. Nonetheless, Marchesa lost a jewelry licensing deal after the news broke, and in the coming months, it essentially went underground, canceling its show at New York Fashion Week.
Founded in 2004, Marchesa rose to popularity thanks in no small part to Weinstein’s clout in Hollywood. Its embellished gowns became a mainstay on the red carpet — particularly on those rolled out for Weinstein’s films. Actresses Felicity Huffman and Jessica Chastain say that when they worked with the producer, he bullied them into wearing Marchesa to events.
Marchesa’s prominent spot in Crazy Rich Asians comes just as the brand and Chapman have started to reemerge in the public eye. Its comeback seems to have been carefully orchestrated by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, once a close friend of Weinstein’s, who published a sympathetic feature about Chapman in the June issue of the magazine. Days before the article ran online, Scarlett Johansson made headlines by wearing Marchesa to the Met Gala, the star-studded fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Wintour organizes.
It was the brand’s first big celebrity placement after the claims against Weinstein broke, and Johansson positioned the choice as a show of goodwill toward Chapman and her co-founder Keren Craig. “I wore Marchesa because their clothes make women feel confident and beautiful and it is my pleasure to support a brand created by two incredibly talented and important female designers,” Johansson told the Cut in a statement.
Crazy Rich Asians throws a spotlight on the ghost of Marchesa’s public image
Rachel’s Marchesa moment in Crazy Rich Asians shouldn’t be taken as a similar message of support. The film wrapped shooting in June 2017, and the Weinstein exposés came out months later, in October. Even then, reshooting the elaborate, very expensive wedding scene in which the gown appears wouldn’t have been a likely choice, especially since Chapman wasn’t directly implicated in the allegations.
What this frothy, uncomplicatedly beautiful dress spells out, however, is what Marchesa meant to stylists and shoppers at a certain not-so-distant point in time. Marchesa is not challenging fashion; it makes you sigh with pleasure, not think about the boundaries of what clothing can look like.
It’s the end of a makeover montage, undeniable in its traditionally feminine attractiveness. That it was used as a key look in one of the summer’s most hotly anticipated movies — one that could hit $30 million in ticket sales through opening weekend — only underscores its preeminence in that realm.
The better question is whether movies shot in a post-Weinstein, post-#MeToo world would use the same dress — and whether they would seek out a dress that projects the same sort of unchallenging femininity in the first place.