Threads and treats
Edible wedding gowns and suits of armor? Designers spill the cocoa beans on their chocolate couture creations.
- By Jacqui Gal
We eat with our eyes first, or so they say. So what better way to celebrate New York Chocolate Week than with a Chocolate Fashion Show?
Top New York fashion designers were paired with local pastry chefs and presented with the challenge of preparing gorgeous gowns made of no less than 40 percent pure chocolate.
One of the designers, Atom Cianfarani, is no stranger to the use of alternative textiles in her work. As a self-proclaimed “discarded commodity designer,” she often makes high fashion from pieces of garbage; her signature fabric is made from recycled bicycle tubes.
Heidi Weisel’s creations, on the other hand, are primarily described with reference to “casual luxury”, “glamour” and “elegance”. The two designers answered questions about their chocolate couture creations.
Can you describe the piece for me, and your approach in designing it?
Atom Cianfarani: I was partnered with Steve Evetts from the Marriott Hotel, who runs the largest pastry shop in New York. His inspiration was to use armour in the collection. So, I designed an armour piece that sits on a flowing dress with asymmetrical panels, covered in chocolate. I built the forms using recycled cardboard and recycled paper maché, and then the final layer is cheesecloth, with the chocolate on top of that.
There’s a solid chocolate headpiece that covers one eye and has feathers that shoot out the side. It’s not really what armor looks like, but it’s what I think it should look like. It will be Bryant Park armor.
Heidi Weisel: Mine is a clean, sensual gown called Falling Leaves. It’s made from ivory tulle, covered with white chocolate leaves and embedded with dewdrops made from Swarovski crystal.
What complications did working with chocolate pose?
HW: Usually my designs are soft, fluid, sensual and romantic, so working with chocolate was different. I would usually use silk tulle, but the outer layer of this gown had to be made with nylon, so the chocolate could adhere to it. My partner Dominique Ansel, the executive pastry chef from Daniel, used chocolate as “glue” to apply the chocolate leaves and crystals.
AC: It didn’t make any difference to me. I have worked with garbage. I have been working with recycled sails and bicycle inner tubes. Chocolate is a lot easier. At first, Steve said, “It’s really difficult”, but I’ve made runway dresses out of garbage that celebrities have worn on the red carpet!
It’s just another textile to me. It has different properties to latex or to silk. It’s hard and if it rubs against another piece the cocoa butter releases a white powder. So I can’t drape one piece on top of another. That’s a limitation.
What has this experience taught you about the point at which food and fashion collide?
HW: This was the most interesting element of the artist-to-artist collaboration, we realized just how much fashion and food have in common: the seasonality of the two, the layers of fabrics and flavors, the colors and the textures, the ingredients, the passion and the inspiration.
AC: I have a very broad sustainability design philosophy, and food is a key thing. I believe in the 100-Mile Diet. So the connectivity of food and fashion to me has always been there. I’ve always eaten organically, I’m very careful to shop at farmers markets, I belong to the Park Slope Food Co-op. Everything to me is always connected, so it’s not really a first, but it is the first time I have worked directly and literally with food in my fashion.
What would a model need to embody in her thinking to carry the chocolate theme successfully?
AC: The model I chose is very strong and a very empowered woman. So she will be powerful, like a warrior, but she has something very sensual on. I like the idea of an empowered woman within the piece.
HW: Our model, Kelly Choi from NYCTV’s Eat Out New York, is the ultimate foodie! Who else could understand the pairing of food and fashion than a former model turned food authority? She happens to be elegant, glamorous and of course incredibly beautiful, so she was a natural choice for my white chocolate bride, the finale of the show.