I recently had the good fortune to sit down with Keren Craig, co-founder and designer for the luxury brand Marchesa. The Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum awarded Marchesa the 2017 President’s Circle Honor. Both my private interview and the Q&A panel hosted by the fabulous Ken Downing of Neiman Marcus provided the perfect opportunity to delve into a brand that has outfitted the likes of Renee Zellweger and Sandra Bullock and has, once again, made it hip to dress and feel like a princess.
“If something makes you feel good,” Craig says, “then you should wear it.”
It is hard to imagine Craig would not feel good in everything. Looking more like a supermodel than a designer, she is quick to talk about her appreciation for all things beautiful. “I have a passion for dressing up. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved party dresses. It was the only thing that I was obsessed with—my mother buying me party dresses.”
“When I moved to America (as an adult), I was surprised by how much eveningwear Americans buy and wear. People go toward the casual zone during the day, but I do believe that people still want to dress up at night if they have an event or an occasion, and I think occasion dressing is really strong. After all, it is how we built our brand!”
In fact, the story behind the brands’ inception is almost as perfect as the Marchesa pieces themselves. Having met at the age of 16 while at school in London, Keren Craig and brand co-founder Georgina Chapman became the best of friends. While after graduation they went on to different colleges and to work for different companies, they always dreamed of working together. It was during a shared 2003 trip to India that the two decided to make their dream a reality. Hence, Marchesa was born. Named after Marchesa Luisa Casati, an Italian heiress and eclectic fashionista, the brand would quickly become synonymous with A-list celebrities and fashionistas around the globe. Chapman would design the dresses, while Craig would design the colorful textiles and intricate embroidery.
Craig’s passion for prints was perhaps preordained. Her mother was an animator, her father a sculptor; her grandfather a painter, and her great-grandfather an illustrator. “It was actually my great-grandmother who introduced me to a painter called Gaillard. He painted the most incredible textiles—absolutely intricate with all the different colors mixed together. And I think that was really the beginning of my inspiration for my passion for print and all things textile.”
Sitting with Craig, who is perfectly donned in her own designs, it is impossible NOT to ask what she “really” looks like when running around New York City, home to both her family of two young daughters and the company’s headquarters. “What is your go-to daytime dress?” I ask her. And while perhaps I would have felt better had she told me “sweats,” I was once again brought into the fairytale of Marchesa when she replied ”Lots of sparkle! I tend to wear a LOT of jewelry.” Flashing a hand adorned with several rings on each finger, all of them glittering with diamonds and multi-colored stones, she laughingly says “Jewelry, lots of jewelry! And black, most likely, especially for fall and winter. But dressed up… the more sparkle, the better!”
It is then that it hits me. The brand Marchesa is more than just a dress. Each design is founded upon the fundamental principle that women are empowered to feel the most beautiful when they feel good about what they are wearing. It is the belief that every woman should always have a little “sparkle.”
In reality, not all fairy tales have happy endings. While Craig is in Chicago to accept honors and present the new spring line, her partner Chapman is conspicuously absent. Upon hearing Craig speak, however, her allegiance is clear. “There is nothing better than getting up and going to work every day with your best friend. We are so excited by the new collection. We cannot wait to see where our next inspiration comes from.”
After lunch, guests are whisked off to Neiman Marcus to view the new collection. My daughter Briggi, who has served as my co-interviewer and event date, is encouraged to try on the most spectacular floral confection of a gown. Upon seeing herself in the mirror she can’t help but proclaim “I feel like I have a Fairy Godmother!” to which Craig replies “You do!”
Having seen the collection and witnessing the spirit behind the brand, there is little doubt that Marchesa, and the women behind it, will continue to weave fairy-tale magic into its customers’ lives.