Fash-Food Nation: A new batch of models, bloggers and editors is changing the way fashion and food blend together
By Olivia Stren
On the inaugural episode of a web series called Elettra’s Goodness, Elettra Wiedemann, host, model and daughter of Isabella Rossellini, is making brie-stuffed puff pastries, shallot confit and fig-and-raspberry compote with actress Blake Lively. They’re stoveside at Richard Gere’s Relais & Chateau Bedford Post Inn, and, before cracking eggs and unfurling pastry sheets, Lively declares in a tone that is intended to be apologetic: “I don’t ever cook with a recipe. So it’s all a little wild.” She is, we are to understand, in her madcap, recipe-eschewing ways, the ultimate domestic goddess, able to concoct compotes off-book, fired by pure, sensuous instinct. As Lively stirs the confit, she talks about the wonders of balsamic vinegar and making butterscotch with “Elwyn,” the pastry chef at Per Se, while Wiedemann shares a fantasy of tiling her kitchen. We then learn that Lively’s sister once hand-tiled her own loo while sporting Louboutins.
Meanwhile, in a kitchen somewhere in London, British model Jourdan Dunn is hosting Well Dunn with Jourdan Dunn on Jay-Z’s Life+Times channel. In the e-series, Dunn treats fellow model Cara Delevingne to a tutorial on tempura prawns and prepares jerk pork belly while she explains how she likes to handle her protein (“I really like getting in and messy and massaging the meat, because then it’s love”). A quick memory of what it was like to shoot for the first time with legendary fashion photographer Steven Meisel for the all-black issue of Italian Vogue (it was “amazing”) is also whipped up.
Historically, fashion and food have hardly made the happiest bedfellows. Kate Moss’s infamous quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” has long served as a provocative stereotype for the relationship between catwalk and calories. But there is a fash-food revolution afoot, with models traipsing catwalks and grocery store aisles and a covey of foodistas joining Wiedemann and Dunn in the larders. Belgian male model Cesar Casier has published Model Kitchen, a cookbook compiling recipes from fashion stars; Canadian model-turned-photographer Jessica Milan’s blog, Lookbook Cookbook, features models taking sexy bites out of carob-almond bars and other New Age desserts; and current eat-girl Karlie Kloss has launched a gluten- and dairy-free cookie company.
Kloss, with a finger in her mouth, graces the cover of Cherry Bombe—a biannual indie food magazine founded by Kerry Diamond, former beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar. Diamond left her post as PR executive at Coach to launch the magazine—a beautifully curated celebration of women and food—this past May with fellow HB expat Claudia Wu. When Diamond and I talk on the phone, she tells me she was just at the farmers’ market in Manhattan’s Union Square, where she beheld—and Instagrammed—a particularly fetching bunch of radishes. “They were the most beeaauutiful radishes!” she says dreamily. About the recent food-meets-fashion love affair, she says: “Food is the ultimate consumer good, and it’s an easy point of entry for a creative person. Remember about five years ago, when everybody was a handbag designer? Well, that was much harder: You had to source the material and the hardware. It’s a lot easier to start a cookie company.” While accessing a carob chip might be easier than, say, sourcing Italian leather, there’s more than ease driving this trend. “This might be a reaction to how plugged-in our lives have become,” says Diamond. “There’s something old-fashioned and comforting about cooking and baking. It’s become modern to do those things.” What might be modern about it is that it’s not enough just to go radish-buying; we now feel the need to plug in (on Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) to share how plugged-out we are.
If the microwaves and Lean Cuisines of the careerist shoulder-padded ’80s have been replaced by aprons and a new familiarity with phyllo, this model-approved back-to-the-Cuisinart movement may be an expression of what journalist Emily Matchar has dubbed the New Domesticity. In her book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, Matchar describes this fashionable impulse to, say, make puff pastry as a collective cultural yearning to “re-embrace home and hearth.” She writes about women who in the ’90s might have been getting sauced in clubs but “are now spending Saturday nights baking cupcakes and photographing them for their food blogs.” In days of yore, it was glamorous to have the means to hire someone to cook for you; now it’s become glamorous to have the ability to do it yourself.
“There’s a class element to this trend,” explains Kalila Jaffe, a food scholar and instructor in New York University’s food studies program. “We’re nostalgic for our grandmother’s jam. People are making their own kimchee! But it’s about having the time to make your own kimchee over the span of three weeks—that’s what we’re really nostalgic for. If you’re a single mother working two jobs, you’re not going to be doing that. It’s aspirational.” Fashion has forever been tied to all things luxe; making your own preserves is now fashionable insofar as it’s about the luxury of time itself.
Homemade phyllo, like a Fendi bag, is glamorous in its inaccessibility. And, like the designer handbag, it’s not enough to enjoy it in the privacy of your home: It needs to be displayed, Coveteur-style. “There’s a huge amount of cultural currency attached to food. Food is cool right now!” says Jaffe, reflecting the same attitude that advertising firms are feeling as celebrity chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis (a face of Clairol) and Mario Batali (who is selling food-inspired beauty products on Eataly.com) infiltrate the beauty and fashion worlds. “But food is ephemeral,” she adds. “It’s literally consumed. In order to bank that cultural capital, you need to take pictures of it, or blog about it.”
This past May in Manhattan, celebrity pastry chef Dominique Ansel launched the cronut—the love child of the croissant and the doughnut. The day of the cronut’s release saw a lineup of people waiting outside his SoHo bakery, anxious for their first bite. Since then, hundreds of people have been joining the morning queue, and the bakery sells out by 8:15 a.m. Cronut scalpers on Craigslist will fetch you the coveted couture carb for as much as $40. There are only about 200 baked daily, and no customer is allowed to purchase more than two at a time. “It’s a manufactured scarcity,” says Jaffe, as if she were talking about a Chanel dress. “It’s about conspicuous consumption. It’s about being able to display it. You take a picture of yourself eating a cronut, or walking around with the beautiful gold cronut box, and post it on your blog.” Or, if you’re a supermodel, you can host a show, make one yourself and invite Blake Lively.