So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards;
the frillings and trimming on her bridal dress, looked like earthly paper.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
As a teacher and a fashion nerd, I’ve always admired the designers who are able to encapsulate the mood of a novel or of a literary period in their creations, like Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig did in their fall/winter 2011 collection. Furthermore, as a lover of all things from the Victorian Age, you may realize my excitement when I learnt that the primary source of inspiration had been one of Charles Dickens’ masterpieces, Great Expectations. The semi-autobiographical bildungsroman was originally published in instalments from 1860 to 1861; thanks its success, it was transposed into several movie versions, the most notable of which is the one directed by David Lean (Craig got the idea of a Victorian-tinged collection after watching it).
If you have read the novel or watched the movie, you should remember one of the most memorable characters is Miss Havisham , a rich spinster, adoptive mother to Estella, the female protagonist of the story. Even if the story is centered on the life of an orphan, Phillip “Pip” Pirrip, we get many glimpses on Miss Havisham’s past, explaining why she lives secluded: when she was younger, she fell in love with a man, Compeyson, whom she fell in love with; at twenty minutes to nine on their wedding day, while she was getting dressed, Havisham received a letter from her soon-to-be husband, who was leaving her. Shocked from the event, she had all the clocks stopped at the exact time in which she had learned of her betrayal. From that day on, she lived in her mansion, always wearing her wedding dress and a single shoe (she was wearing one shoe only when she received the letter), the wedding cake left uneaten. Miss Havisham is a symbol of betrayed love and decay, a woman who cannot accept what happened to her and thus forces herself (and the few people who know her) never to forget the worst moment of her life.
It’s stunning to see how Chapman translated all these elements into her collection. Most of Marchesa’s distinctive style signs are still there, but infused with a bit of darkness, destruction and the idea of a slowly decaying process. Tulle, lace effects, taffeta and velvet in black, red and white are featured in an impressive set of dramatic outfits.
Nothing speaks Gothic Victorian to me like this black dress, where chantilly lace and tulle mix. The ruffles at the hips and on the shoulders, the touch of veil on the neckline, the delicate scalloped hem concur in creating a magnificent and perfectly balanced example of mystery and seduction.
Lea Michele wore a modified version of this gorgeous dress when she attended the premiere of Glee The 3D Concert Movie, held at the Regency Village Theater on August 6th, 2011 in Westwood, California. She paired to Casadei needle pumps and subtle diamond jewellery. I think this version is very much event-appropriated, but it totally lacks the dramatic and romantic vibe of the original model. The hip section, for example, is flat and lifeless, while it is fluffy in the original design.
The lace effect has been achieved in different ways, sometimes without actually using lace: the bodices of dresses above, for example, are made of nude tulle embroidered in black. Both skirts are made of velvet; the dress on the left has black tulle mutton sleeves (reminiscent of 1890’s fashion) and an upright ruffled collar.
Madonna wore the dress on the right when she attended the premiere of W.E., her latest movie, on January 23, 2012, in New York. She usually opts for less dramatic outfits on the red carpet, but I’m glad she chose to wear this dress, because she looked stunning. She completed the outfit with Christian Louboutin black peep-toe pumps and diamond jewellery (bracelets and rings). A neutral make-up and a refined updo gave a chic touch to the final result.
Mutton sleeves can be found in these outfits, too: the taffeta jacket is doubled with tulle ripped at the hem and is paired to a long velvet skirt; the tulle Empire-line top on the right has proper balloon sleeves and is worn with a pair of leather skinny pants.
This dress is certainly one of the most impressive pieces: it’s completely made of tulle with embroidered lace appliquès and is worn with a 3/4 sleeved coat with an upright collar, embellished with ruffled tulle. Besides the handiwork, I’m impressed by the shape of the skirt, opening up like a flower cup.
I love these dresses, they’re so dramatic and speak a thousand words. Though different – the black one has an embroidered tulle bodice and handkerchief skirt, while the white one is strapless, has an asymmetric hem and a lace overlay – both are completed by a headpiece, halfway between a bride veil (a reference to Miss Havisham’s wedding) and a Spanish mantilla.
One of the dresses that actually contain elements of decay is the gorgeous white one above: some of the tulle layers are destroyed at the hem. The perfect balance of romanticism and despair is sublime.
Lucy Liu wore a modified version of the dress above at the Los Angeles premiere of Kung-Fu Panda 2 premiere on May 22, 2011. The shorter version, with less tulle underlay, is event-appropriate, but it’s definitely not as dramatic as the dress originally presented in the collection. Lucy wore it with a black belt and nude peep-toe pumps (I would have liked black sandals best).
Here the lace effect is achieved by a floral pattern embroidered on tulle; the result is stunning in both cases. The strapless dress is like a ballerina tutu, with an overlay of white tulle; the jacket, with upright collar, long cuffs and ruffled hem, is paired to white leather skinny pants.
Miranda Kerr wore the tutu dress at the Costume Institute Gala 2011 in New York, pairing it to a Marchesa crystal-studded box clutch and to a stunning pair of Nicholas Kirkwood lace-up sandals. The piece seen on Miranda is slightly modified – the tulle overlay is shorter.
Selena Gomez wore the jacket above as a mini dress while attending the MTV European Music Awards in Belfast on November 6th, 2011. She paired it to a red crocodile box clutch and Casadei 6000 peep-toe pumps, made of satin, ruched mesh embellished with rhinestones.
I’m in awe in front of the complexity of this outfit, where different influences mix: the dress, made of white tulle, has the bodice embroidered and a crinoline skirt; the jacket is made of black velvet, it has an upright collar, irregular hem embellished with ripped black tulle. The whale boning peeping from under the white tulle is a nod to the haute couture quality of the collection (even if it’s technically pret-a-porter), while the ripped details are a reference to Miss Havisham’s old wedding dress. I also love the black lace socks, worn with ankle-strap pumps.
Abigail Breslin wore this dress to attend the Hollywood premiere of her latest film, New Year’s Eve. She looked lovely but not thanks to the dress. I love it on the model, but there’s something wrong in the way in which it fits the young actress. The high waist-line and the floppy shape of the skirt ruin the whole look. It’s such a pity because one of the strongest point of the dress was the ballerina-like skirt, not this sad amount of tulle. She finished her look with Jimmy Choo satin pumps with glittering platforms and heels.
Layers of draped white chiffon are the ideal backdrop for the jet embroidery featured in this dress. The draping has always been recurring in Marchesa collections and here is paired to a very original rendition of lace effect.
Lace has been actually used in these dresses: the first is a variation of the white dress with mantilla above (this one has an embroidered tulle capelet with scalloped hem); the second has cute ruffled straps and is made of iridescent lace tulle. The same fabric makes the socks worn by the model.
Origami-pleated fabric is a trademark of Marchesa style; I think these dresses are connected to the most traditional designs by Chapman. The first has a long velvet skirt, while the second, made of a gorgeous grey-white silk, is doubled with nude tulle. The skirt of the second dress is impressive, since the lower hem is cut like handkerchiefs.
Janet Jackson wore the black dress above at the Vienna Life Ball on May 19, 2011. I’m not really a fan of her style, but she looked amazing with this dress. I’m glad she didn’t over-accessorize it, completing such a gorgeous dress with a simple cuff bracelet only.
Eva Longoria wore the other dress on June 14th, 2012, when she attended the closing ceremony of the Monte Carlo TV Festival. Eva has often worn Marchesa dresses and most of the time she manages to look beautiful, despite the fact that those dresses are not always flattering on her. This time, she did a bad choice because the style of the dress is totally wrong for her. All those foldings and pleatings make the silhouette a bit heavy and Eva’s body frame seems to disappear under the embellishments.
Chapman and Craig love feathers and will always do, so they couldn’t leave some feather-embellished pieces out of the collection. The dusty grey top on the left is paired to matching snake-effect leather skinny pants, while the ice white organza ballgown with scalloped lower hem is like a dream materialized into a dress.
Here we’re stepping into the realm of day-dreaming. Both dresses are made of tulle in dusty colours. The one on the left has the lower hem in a slightly darker shade, so as to achieve a stained effect; bodice, sleeves and skirt have white floral embroideries. The one on the right is made of powder beige embroidered tulle and has a dramatic mermaid-line: the skirt is made of pale pink ruffled tulle.
Fergie wore the dress on the left at the Costume Institute Gala in May 2011, but unfortunately she turned it into a tacky number. I don’t know why but it looked so bridal (read: out of place) on her, which is a pity because the dress is fabulous.
Eva Longoria had the honour to wear the dress on the right when she attended the opening ceremony of the 65th Cannes Film Festival on May 16th, 2012. I’m not a fan of petite celebrities wearing evening dresses with a train, but this time I think Eva was totally able to pull this look off. She looked beautiful – simple updo, neutral make-up, flawless accessorizing (she carried a Marchesa clutch and Brian Atwood shoes).
The return of mutton sleeves can be noticed in this taffeta coat dress, with chinched waist and full skirt. I think the colour and the fabric are so reminiscent of the breath-taking coat seen on Alexander McQueen fall/winter 2008 catwalk. The strapless dress is made of red satin, is doubled with beige ripped tulle and has an irregular hem (again, the theme of ruined and decayed fabrics).
I love how red has been matched to beige tulle in these dresses: one features a ruffled skirt and cap sleeves, while the other has longer sleeves (I think the effect is similar to a capelet) and scalloped lower hem.
The first celebrity to wear a piece from this collection was Blake Lively. The Gossip Girl star and Chanel testimonial wore the short red dress at the CinemaCon awards ceremony in Las Vegas on 31st March, 2011, where she received the Breakthrough Performer of the Year award. She paired the ruffled dress to red and gold Helena sandals by Brian Atwood.
Rachel McAdams wore the long dress above at the premiere of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. She looked amazing, because she let the dress do the talking and didn’t over-accessorize. Her shoes, to be honest, are not the right option – satin point-toe pumps with such a peculiar dress? – but all the rest was perfect, wavy hairstyle included.
The most original rendition of lace is featured in this dusty blue tulle ballgown, where the beaded floral embellishments have been wired, so as to achieve a sculptural look. Impressive.
Last but not least, here comes my favourite piece of the collection. Words fail when it comes to describing this number: if you’ve ever dreamed of wearing a cloud of (slightly yellowing) white tulle embroidered with crystals, well, you’ll surely fall in love with this one. To my eyes, it’s an extremely feminine dress, a perfect symbol of how you don’t need to wear revealing clothes to dress like a woman. It may look a bit over the top or meringue-like, but to me it’s just a dream come true.
Besides the gorgeous shoes Christian Louboutin designed for Marchesa (my favourite style are the suede pumps with ballerina-like strings), the accessories included jewellery by Miriam Haskell, a historical brand of American costume jewellery. The result of this collaboration was a set of metal floral pieces, including beautiful ear cuffs, whose vibe reminds me of Chanel Haute Couture spring 2005 floral bracelets and brooches.
I love most of Marchesa collections (their rendition of Japanese and Grecian influences is gorgeous), but I must admit this one has stolen my heart. I’ve always had a soft spot for Victorian culture and style, so now Chapman and Craig have a special place in my personal hall of fame, including designers who have taken their inspiration from that historical period .
 This character inspired Alexis Bittar for a jewellery line of the same name.
 In case you were wondering who sits on top of the list: the one and only Alexander McQueen, who made Gothic Victoriana like no other.