Marchesa’s Keren Craig on Fringe, Separates and Miami

A pair of talented designers meet at London’s Chelsea College of Art and Design and soon thereafter, the duo embark on a business venture destined for greatness. Keren Craig and Georgina Chapman introduced their point of view as designers with Marchesa, an extravagant eveningwear brand named after fabulous Italian socialite, Marchesa Luisa Casati. Since its 2004 debut, Marchesa has been hailed as the epitome of luxury formal wear focused on intricate details, embroideries and rich fabrics. Craig and Chapman work brilliantly together; Craig’s keen eye for embellishments and fabrics paired with Chapman’s effortless silhouettes results in garments fit for royalty and red carpet A-listers. Starlets like Penelope Cruz, Blake Lively, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Emma Watson and more (the list is endless) have donned Marchesa frocks to events worldwide. And to boot, even First Lady Michelle Obama calls Marchesa a go-to designer.

Keren Craig recently traveled to Miami to host a trunk show for the brand’s Fall/Winter ’15 collection at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour Shops. Here, Craig reveals the creative process that she and her partner have mastered, spotlights her favorite Miami destinations and declares that for Marchesa, staples will always include “a fringe, a feather and jewels.”

RAC: Fringe is everywhere, and while it’s recent popularity can be considered trendy, Marchesa has done fringe for years and makes it feel classic. So tell us, is fringe here to stay?

KC: I think for us at Marchesa, we’ve used fringe so many different times and we are always drawn to it. For us it’s a staple go-to: a fringe, a feather and jewels. It’s not a new fabrication for us to use. It was just something that we were feeling for this collection. This collection has a 1920s feel, so it kind of made sense with the theme. We’re not a trend-led company, but I do always find it interesting when you show and you see a lot of fringing come up with other designers as well. You’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, other people were feeling this too.’

RAC: Tell us about your creative process. How do you and Georgina collaborate so masterfully?

KC: We start with creating mood boards, and we may have three or four huge mood boards full of inspiration— I mean huge, as high as this ceiling, with pictures and pictures and we create a theme. Then, we start immersing ourselves in that world. For me as a textile and embroideries designer, I will start by making swatches of things that I am seeing on the board, and Georgina will start sketching or making toile, and it’s really a synergy when we work together. Sometimes Georgina will sketch something and suggest we need a little beading, so I’ll do something for that particular dress. Other times she will see a swatch of mine and say, ‘I really want to design a dress for that swatch.’ So, it’s a really organic process and it’s a fun process.

RAC: Where do the photos that cover your mood boards come from?

KC: It’s really a mixture of travel, paintings and stills from movies. It’s a big melting pot of ideas.

RAC: Tell us about what led you to focus on embroideries as a designer.

KC: I studied as a fashion textile designer, and in my third year of college we had a placement year. I spent four months in Italy and four months in India, and that’s really where my passion for textiles really started. I get a lot of inspiration from traditional techniques and I like to take traditional techniques and make them new. I think it’s just always been there for me; a passion for fabrics and colors, from a very early age. It has always inspired me.

RAC: Do you feel a certain sense of pressure with every new collection? How do you stay innovative, season after season?

KC: It’s not a pressure, but we do try to see what the market is looking for. Like for instance today, we are in the process of designing our Resort collection, and we’re looking at our separates. We’re really looking to get some feedback today from store managers and customers about what they’re looking for. I think things like that are very interesting; for us to find out what people are wanting. I think that it’s important when you are designing a collection. It’s not just totally fantastical about what you want the collection to be, but you also need to bear in mind that there is a customer out there that may be young or a bit more mature, and we need to understand what everyone is looking for as well. We incorporate all of those consumers into our Resort collection, which is really more of a sales collection for us than a runway collection.

RAC: To that end, do you have certain markets or customers in mind when you design?

KC: Yes! We’ll say, ‘This is for our Florida customer; she’s young, she’s sexy, she wants to show off her body and she’s not afraid of color.’ Certainly we may look at this caftan and say, ‘This is our Miami caftan,’ and then look at another caftan and say, ‘This is our Saudi Arabia caftan.’ You do think about those different women and what they want to wear when you’re designing the collection.

RAC: You mentioned a focus on separates earlier. Do you think that separates are the next wave in eveningwear?

KC: We’ve always believed in separates. We’ve always had a selection of them within the collection. Some people will always buy the separates, whereas some of the bigger stores will say ‘No, you do dresses so we buy dresses from you.’ I feel that there has been a big shift in the last few seasons, where people are really leaning towards having a bit of versatility with their evening wear. They invest in a top that could go with a skirt for a ball gown look, or with a trouser, like a tuxedo trouser for an evening look. Then, I feel like you’re getting a lot of look for just one top. I do feel like people are leaning towards that at the moment, and we’re excited about that!

RAC: Are you familiar with Miami, and if so, what are some of your favorite Miami destinations?

KC: I have been coming here for 11 years. Georgina and I have just been made the first women connoisseurs of the St. Regis, and I feel very lucky. They are the epitome of luxury. I am also a big fan of Casa Tua. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Miami. It’s a classic. I went there the first time I came to Miami and so now, for me it epitomizes this city to me.

RAC: What’s next for Marchesa?

KC: We’ve just launched our fine jewelry collection, the Eternal collection, which we are very excited about. At the moment, we’re focusing on bridal jewelry, a lot of engagement rings, pendants and earrings, and we are going to expand that into fashion jewelry as well. That has been an amazing thing to design.

RAC: I can see how your love of embroideries could certainly carry over into jewelry.

KC: It’s such a dream! We also want Marchesa to be a lifestyle brand. We have our tabletop collection and we have some new things in the pipeline, so it’s an exciting times for us.

Photography Credit: World Red Eye