Patisserie at Prada: How food became the latest fashion fad
Cherry-topped choux buns filled with cream. Mirror-glazed chocolate hazelnut tortes. Fat, flaky almond croissants, dusted with icing sugar.
Not the food you might think the fashion crowd is clamouring for, but if London’s new Prada-owned patisserie, Marchesi 1824, is anything to go by, fashionistas are embracing the epicurean - in a big, sugary, calorific way.
Food is most definitely in fashion. In fact, food has become the perfect vehicle for designers to amplify their brand’s "personality" and lure in a new wave of social media-obsessed customers looking for something attractive - be it a fancy cake or a frock - to post online.
Like a lipstick or designer scent, food is a much more affordable way of buying into a brand. You might not be able to shell out hundreds on a handbag, but you can afford an eclair and get something beautiful to share on Instagram. Patisserie is the new perfume, a designer macaron the new make-up.
Like fashion, food is a status symbol. What you eat and where you eat it is a way of showing the world how refined and in-the-know you are. Designers aren’t just selling clothes any more, they’re selling a lifestyle.
Marchesi 1824 ticks all the boxes. Sip an Italian espresso with panettone, or a £6 (about R110) sugar-encrusted bombolone (an Italian-filled doughnut) while lounging in one of its green velvet chairs.
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At Burberry’s Regent Street flagship store, Thomas’s Cafe, named after it’s founder, serves a British menu in line with its heritage branding: shepherd’s pie with minted carrots, Cornish lemon sole, Balmoral Estate saddle of deer.
There are touches of luxury - lobster benedict, Exmoor oysters - but you can also get a portion of £5 designer chips.
Further down Regent Street, there’s Ralph’s Coffee & Bar inside the Ralph Lauren store. It nods to the label’s polo player logo with an equestrian-themed decor, and serves a coffee blend roasted especially for the discerning taste buds of the designer himself.
So, is an eaterie now the must-have "accessory" for luxury fashion retailers? "Partly, these food concepts are being introduced to diversify income strategy, as the clothes are not selling as well," says consumer and fashion psychologist Kate Nightingale. "It brings us into the brand’s physical locations and gets us to stay longer."
On the Champs Élysées in Paris, 86Champs is a collaborative concept store between French beauty label L’Occitane and luxury macaron brand Pierre Hermé.
The 10 000sq ft space is a harmonious marriage of patisserie and perfumerie, with a dessert bar serving special macaron flavours that mirror L’Occitane’s natural ingredients, such as honey-mandarin and rhubarb-grapefruit.
Flipping the idea, there’s an exclusive fragrance range in-store, with scents inspired by delicious culinary combinations such as raspberry and matcha green tea, or fig and rose.
The food dovetails with the brand’s story, so it’s more than just a gimmick.
Italy in particular leads the way in smart food-fashion fusion. In Milan, Prada’s trend-setting Bar Luce, has a Fifties aesthetic designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson (of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" fame) and serves up foie gras panini and dainty tarts.
Meanwhile, Dolce & Gabbana has collaborated with Martini on a string of bars with moody, all-black interiors in various chic Italian hotspots.
But the big question is: does the food actually taste any good? In some instances, yes, when fashion labels have reeled in big name chefs.
Last year, Armani/Ristorante, on the first floor of Emporio Armani’s store in the Parisian neighbourhood of St Germain, was awarded a Michelin star. Its seafood spaghetti may set you back £39, but at least you can trust it will be exquisite.
Surely hoping to clinch a star is Gucci, which unveiled Gucci Osteria last year, an emerald-green restaurant in Gucci Garden, its museum-meets-retail concept in Florence.
The fashion house has landed acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which has three Michelin stars and was heralded the best restaurant in the world this year. Talk about upping the stakes.
That’s where fashion’s new-found love of food really works; a dazzling fine-dining experience might be "on brand", but when it inspires something a little more knowing and humorous - even frivolous - it’s far more fun. Bon appetit.Daily Mail