Anna Wintour wants you to know that "one should not hold a person responsible for the actions of his or her partner". This information is pertinent because, in the latest issue of American Vogue, Anna has chosen to profile Georgina Chapman, cofounder of the red carpet dress brand Marchesa and the now-estranged wife of the disgraced Hollywood producer and alleged sexual predator, Harvey Weinstein. The piece, which runs to more than 5,000 words, is by Jonathan van Meter, a contributing editor who Vogue deploys for such esteemed interviewees as Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Ivanka Trump, Kendall Jenner, Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence.
In her June editor’s letter, Anna writes that she met Georgina in 2004, the year Marchesa launched, and describes her friend as "warm, funny, and extremely self-deprecating". "Georgina is essentially quite old-fashioned," Anna relays, "and just as she was always the good daughter … she also became the good wife" – a reference, of course, to the trope of a woman who stands by her husband through a political sex scandal, and the title of the award-winning American TV show with that exact plot. Importantly, however, Georgina did not stand by her man. She tells van Meter that it took her "about two days" to absorb the revelations. "[I]t was difficult because the first article was about a time long before I’d ever met him, so there was a minute where I couldn’t make an informed decision. And then the stories expanded and I realised that this wasn’t an isolated incident. And I knew that I needed to step away and take the kids out of here." Anna Wintour confirms in her letter that she is "firmly convinced that Georgina had no idea about her husband’s behavior," and opines – somewhat pointedly, perhaps – that "blaming her for any of it, as too many have in our gladiatorial digital age, is wrong".
Despite a few accusations along the lines of "she must have known!" (or, if not that, then "she should have known"), it’s not hard to agree with the position that Harvey must take sole responsibility for the rape, sexual assault, abuse and harassment allegations against him. It is, of course, preposterous to blame that on Georgina. However, the situation isn’t as crystal clear as some might like it to be. Through Ronan Farrow’s excellent reporting for the New Yorker, evidence has emerged that Weinstein went to extreme lengths to hide his abusive behaviour, to discredit those who spoke out against him, and to use his immense power in Hollywood to bend people to his will. Such a large-scale and aggressive campaign required co-conspirators. It was, for example, revealed that Harvey’s brother, Bob Weinstein, paid off accusers in the UK from his personal bank account. Harvey may have done the abusing, but there are serious questions to be asked about who else was involved in the cover-up.
There is no evidence that Georgina was complicit in these schemes. It is, however, undeniable that her proximity to the most powerful man in film gifted Marchesa invaluable access to the most famous leading actors in the world and, via their bodies, to red carpet events and the prized pages of Vogue – sometimes even the cover. Speaking to Vogue in 2013, Harvey himself admitted that, "Maybe I helped, but just very, very little, with Renée Zellweger," who was one of the first to wear Marchesa on the red carpet, in its launch year, at the premiere of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which was distributed by Weinstein’s production company Miramax. "Within a year or two, it became actresses calling me on the phone asking if she was available for them," Harvey claimed. "So the tables completely turned. To the point where I didn't even want to answer the phone if I knew it was an actress." Which may or may not be true, as it has since been alleged that Harvey did not merely facilitate the provision of Marchesa gowns to the actors he worked with, but that he actually threatened them with the consequences of not doing so.
After the sexual assault and harassment allegations came out, The Hollywood Reporter published further claims that Harvey had coerced actors into wearing Marchesa dresses. An unnamed fashion publicist working with Sienna Miller on the 2006 Golden Globes revealed that, despite showing Sienna a dress from another brand she liked, it was relayed to them that, as she would be sitting with Harvey and Georgina at the awards, "[Harvey] would be very upset if she didn’t wear Marchesa". The same publicist alleged that, "Felicity Huffman was told by Weinstein that he wouldn't put any money behind promoting her 2005 film Transamerica unless she wore Marchesa on the red carpet" – a claim that was confirmed on tape by Huffman herself a week later. Following these revelations, and amid an unofficial boycott on the red carpet, the brand cancelled its New York Fashion Week runway show in February – ostensibly in favour of an "updated format" (a digital presentation), though a source claimed that Georgina had simply been too scared to show.
Just days before Anna Wintour’s editor’s letter, the longstanding red carpet boycott was broken. Scarlett Johansson became the first to wear a Marchesa gown, choosing a red tulle creation for the Met Gala. Otherwise known as the 'fashion Oscars', anyone who has watched The First Monday In May knows the event is minutely managed by Wintour and her team, from who is invited to where they sit – even what they wear. Following the inevitable, shocked backlash, Scarlett issued a statement defending her decision: "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," she told E! News, which notes that Georgina and her Marchesa business partner Keren Craig responded to say they are "truly honoured" that Scarlett chose to wear their gown. "She is an amazingly talented actor who has incredible style and presence. It was wonderful to work so closely with her in creating this custom look," they said.
If you’re thinking this all seems quite neatly orchestrated, you are not alone. In a stinging piece for The Cut, journalist Stella Bugbee bravely asks, "Who Is Anna Wintour Asking Us to Forgive in Her Editor’s Letter?" and concludes that, "with this letter, Wintour positions herself alongside Chapman: They were two women close to Harvey who both claimed to know nothing of his crimes but benefitted from association with his power ... By asking us to forgive and forget for Chapman, Wintour asks that we do the same for her". While Stella makes it clear that she doesn’t blame Georgina, she makes the crucial point that the pain Harvey caused his family, "doesn’t mean they deserve more social rehabilitation than his other victims". "When Anna Wintour puts Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino, or one of the dozens of women who came forward to accuse Weinstein on the cover of Vogue — when she uses her power to get Asia Argento a movie role or a beauty contract — then maybe we can applaud her efforts," Stella rails.
Scarlett Johansson’s claim that Marchesa’s clothes "make women feel confident and beautiful" surely only applies to those who were not bullied into wearing them by a man who was allegedly a serial predator who had an iron fist around their careers. It is intriguing to note the pains to which Jonathan van Meter goes in his profile of Georgina to confirm how deeply unfashionable Marchesa’s designs are. "[T]here is nothing even remotely edgy about what she does," he writes, noting that Georgina herself "has no illusions of being avant-garde". Which begs the question: Why did Anna consistently put them in the pages of Vogue? And why is the rehabilitation of Marchesa now a priority?
Alongside the comebacks being orchestrated for men accused of sexual harassment and assault (disgraced American TV presenter Charlie Rose is reportedly shopping a 'Meet the Abusers' show designed to do just that), it seems fair to ask why the priority for Anna and Vogue was to rehabilitate Marchesa and Georgina Chapman, and not support the women who bravely spoke out – many of them being hugely famous women who would not be out of place in Vogue. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, one of Weinstein’s accusers, Sarah Ann Masse (who alleges that, during a 2008 job interview, Weinstein wore only his boxers as he hugged and proclaimed his love for her) says such support for survivors would be "a way in which [Anna] can make sure that it isn't just a tactical targeted move to rehabilitate [Georgina], it's actually her trying to show support to all of the people who have been harmed in this situation."
All of the survivors who comment in the THR piece agree that it would be wrong to blame Georgina for Harvey’s actions, and that she shouldn’t have to shut her business because of it. "I wish the woman well and hope her career and brand are very successful, but I hope she doesn't believe that everything will be back to normal," says Louise Godbold, who Weinstein cornered in the early 1990s, begging for a massage. "Now she has to face that her career and her brand were built on an abuse of power, whether she was witting or unwitting of what Harvey was doing, is not the point," Louise adds. "The point is: She knows now, and what is she going to do now?"
"I don't think [Chapman] should be disallowed from having her business because she was married to Harvey," Sarah Ann Masse agrees, adding that she isn’t "personally angry with Anna or Georgina". However, she makes an important point about the timing of the piece, and the environment it was published in. "I just think perhaps this article is premature, because the victims are still going through this and still haven't seen any justice served. The focus should be there." Beyond speculation about who knew what, and who is trying to save face, this is truly what matters most.