Food is the new black – By Zara Wong Vogue Issue 09 September 2013 [Photographs by Casey Trebilcock]
From catwalk to cakewalk, there’s a TREND you can sink your teeth into – amazing and affordable food experiences, from baked goods to designer chocolate and gourmet dinners – Zara Wong
Call it a slow simmer, if you will, but fashions fixation with food runs far deeper than alliterative appeal. They feed off each other: think Dolce & Gabbana’s feature print of last seasons (The ingredients of a vegetable soup strewn as liberally as the traditional floral print) or of American supermodel Karelia Koss choosing to embolden her name not through a fashion line but with cookies made in a collaborating with Momofuku Milk Bar owner and chef Christina Tosi. Before one makes snide remarks of the weary stereotype of fashion people not eating, they certainly do. Jean Touitou of A.P.C and Azzedine Alaia are renowned for their prowess in the kitchen, and fashion weeks are as much about the hottest places to eat as they are about the shows themselves. It is interestingly apparent that far from a brief flirtation, this is a relationship of lasting romance rooted in history and passion.
One of the most interesting aspects is how food and fashion influence and percolate through society in similar ways. Think of fashions recent predilection for using neoprene and scuba materials as analogous to the food industry’s obsession with nitrogen – it’s all about the latest fashion and food technology, respectively. Lee Tran Lam, who writes one of Australia’s popular food blogs, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, compares the influence of trends in the food industry as similar to those of the catwalk; the worldwide effect of cronuts is not unlike Balenciaga’s ruffles filtering down to the high street. “Food, like fashion, is driven by trends, seasonality and the occasional gust of hype”, say Lam. When Dominque Ansel’s bakery in New York opens each morning there is already a line of customers ready to snap up %5 cronuts, spurring on copycats and a black market of cronuts where they can cost as much as $40 each. “It’s led to worldwide interpretation”, says Lam. “In Australia now, there’s Adriana Zumbos zonut.” And if the macaron trend is anything to go by (it enjoyed a flurry of popularity that peaked with the launch of Laduree, before McDonalds’ started making them), by the time this story goes to print cronuts may soon be coming to a fast food outlet near you.
“When you are obsessed and intrigued by beauty and craftsmanship in fashion, I think it’s a natural extension to be obsessed with amazing food”, says Caroline Issa, executive fashion director of Tank magazine. Elettra Wiedemann compares the allure of a handcrafted Birkin bag with that of a locally sourced, organically grown tomato. “Both tell a story, were a labour of love and connect the consumer to an artisan and tradition,” says Wiedemann. “That’s what has gripped the imagination of many people in fashion”. As a model and activist with a focus on food, health and sustainability, Wiedemann has become something of a poster-woman for a modern approach to fashion and food. The daughter of Isabella Rossellini, she is ensconced in the world of fashion (her friend, designer Giambattista Valli, played matchmaker by introducing Wiedemann to her now husband) and he also hosts UV Vogue’s Elettra’s Goodness, a show on YouTube where she cooks with guests such as Grace Coddington and Blake Lively (who herself is at ease talking about her love for Christian Louboutin heels as her new La Cornue Kitchen). YouTube, in fact, has become a platform for models looking to exert their flair for food; there is also Jourdan Dunn, who cooks family favourites and enlists fellow model Cara Delevingne as an occasional sous chef.
There is a level of luxury and diligence that is required in pursuing fine food. It has in effect become a relatively affordable status symbol. A Hermes Birkin costs thousands, but a seven course degustation with matching wines at El Celler de Can Roca, the top restaurant on Restaurant Magazines Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list, in Girona, Spain will set you back about $250. While fashion retailing has softened, food retailing is on the rise. Think of it as the ‘lipstick effect’ (and, at worst, accessible hedonism) – n hard times, luxury shopping does not completely disappear but it morphs into something else; a consumer deems it more cost effective to spoil themselves with a bar gourmet chocolate than splashing out on a new dress.
Then there is the limited edition, must-be-the-first-to-have-it appeal. Renowned restaurant El Bulli had a waiting list believed to be longer than one for Chanel’s sold-out espadrilles. The food industry is constantly evolving with new cooking stars, hot restaurants and must try dishes being named daily, and achieving these checkpoint shows off one’s amateur gourmand status. “I think the fact that they’re both fields that push people to experiment and be inventive leads to lots of new ideas bubbling over and gaining attention,” says Lam. For Jenny Capano, quitting her job at 3.1 Phillip Lin in New York with her friend Tara Gibson to relocate to Paris and start The Sporting Project, a food and fashion consulting firm, with clear choice, “The funny thing is that when I worked in fashion I always felt that if you weren’t talking about the shows, you were talking about where you were going to eat for dinner and what’s the new restaurant.” Capano and Gilson join a gilded league of former fashion industry members who work in food, such as Adam Rapoport, who went from style editor at GQ to editor-in-chief at Bon Appetite, former fashion model Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson, who, before becoming a celebrity cook, was a food writer for UK Vogue.
It is no coincidence that Paris is the capital of both food and fashion. Kind Louis XIV set out to make Paris the arbiter of taste and style, giving rise to celebrity chefs and courtiers as part of his mercantilist approach of economic and political policy under the advice of his controller general of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, long before Marie-Antoinette famously became a trendsetter in her own right. Louis XIV saw that becoming a leader in food and fashion was a ‘soft power’ and encouraged tourism and increased exports.
But with increasing homogeneity thanks to globalization and the influx of fast retailing making the street style of Shanghai not much different to that of Sydney or Stockholm, food is perhaps becoming one of the last few differentiating symbols. It is personal and creative expression at its most basic – flats or heels, cupcakes or ice cream, leather or lace, poached or fried? Food, like fashion, has its tribes, but its lower price makes it easier to try new experiences.
Everyone has their two cents to contribute about their most memorable meal or where to purchase the best pair of jeans. Food and fashion are a daily means of self-expression – yes, there’s as much weight in crafting ones own image when choosing Celine’s minimalist chic as to opting for a green smoothie with kale, futuristic Christopher Kane to tacos from the food truck. Savvy celebrities can use this to their advantage as well. It adds to Blake Lively’s golden girl persona that she can simultaneously shimmy on the red carpet in an embellished Marchesa gown while enthusiastically espousing what she learnt in a private class at New Yorks Per Se restaurant, and increases Karlie Kloss’s small town girl charm when you read that her favourite hobby is baking. (Or for others, it can be polarizing – take, for example, Gwyneth Paltrow and her vegetarianism) “You need to get dressed once you tumble out of bed and you need to think about all the mealtimes that will get you through the day”, says Lam. “It doesn’t matter if you live in the metropolis or the Amazon, everyone is eating and everyone has tradition linked to food”, says Wiedemann. “Food provides a glimpse of our culture and lifestyle.”
Naturally, the overall growth and fascination with food is a contributing factor; think Masterchef, David Chang (of Momofuku) and his twitter account, new international food titles (Kinfolk, Gather Journal and Cereal) and the popularity of the brunch meeting. Patterns in socialising are also in the mix; social activities, particularly with woman are now planned around coffee or a meal rather than, say, shopping in a bricks and mortar store. This explains our love for a long, weekend brunch (and those queues), which will surely be caught on fashions favourite social media platform of Instagram. Someone like Natalie Massenet of Net-A-Porter is just as likely to Instagram an image of her pasta dish or maltesar cake she made on her latest fashion purchase. On Vogue Australia’s Instagram account, images of cupcakes and other fanciful desserts are as popular as the new seasons fashion. “There seems to be more interest now, perhaps because were able to see what’s appearing on dinner tables around the world or inside acclaimed restaurants thanks to blogs, Instagram and other social media” says Lam. “Especially given how the never-ending social media circle has trained us to pounce on the next cool thing and retweet, repin and share.”
Some have argued that women’s fascination with food is regressive and anti-feminist. Aren’t we undoing the work of feminism if were suddenly reveling in the art of jam making while eyeing off the latest Charlotte Olympia heels? This is answered by what the writer Peggy Orenstein refers to in a 2010 article in the New York Times as the femivore movement – an “unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Better Draper”. Rather than seeing this as a backwards step, the femivore movement is about reclaiming previously gendered arenas like food and domesticity because, after all, women have historically been in charge of feeding the family. It also draws attention to women’s role in creating and consuming food as more than just fuel, but also as part of a lifestyle choice and for enjoyment, too.
“The timing just seemed right,” says Kerry Diamon of the decision with co-founder Claudia Wu to launch the fashion and food magazine Cherry Bombe, which reached its funding target on crowd sourcing site Kickstarter ahead of deadline. Kloss appears on the cover of the launch issue, which features other fashion foodies such as Garance Dore and Sofia Coppola. “We didn’t expect the reaction and, obviously, this is something that women are hungry for in multiple ways”. “Food is coming its own art form,” agrees Wu. “People are elevating food from just sustenance to something with style”. Between Wu and Diamon, their CV’s name-check Lancome, WWD and independent fashion magazine Me.
The margining of food and fashion results in mutual lifestyle-ification. The store Merci, which is in a mansion in the Marais district in Paris, stocks a range of designers alongside three different cafes, and London’s Dover Street Market is a retail must not just for its extensive Comme des Garcons products but for the Rose Bakery upstairs. Evolution has forced fashion brands to enhance their competitive edge by exploring lifestyle components, like Herme including a café in its Saint Germain des Pres store. “Fashion gains inspiration from everywhere,” says Capano. “It’s not really just about fashion, its about lifestyle.”
There are the big name fashion and food collaborations that make headlines – Albert Elbaz for Laduree and Armani chocolate – but what is most enlightening is the philosophy of extending your taste beyond what you wear, to other areas in your life. “It’s nice to inspire the whole act of nourishing, and in all its forms”, says Diamond.
“Nourishing the stomach, the brain the eye and each other”. The one thing that can be relied upon, despite the ebb and flow of trends in food and fashion, is the enjoyment that comes from living a stylish life to its fullest, from what you put in your stomach to what you put on your back. As Yves Saint Laurent once said: “All elements of life follow a certain style.” Yet there’s one that never goes out of fashion, and that’s good food.”