PARIS — More so than the giant chandelier hung up on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées or the symphonic orchestra serenading guests with Nineties hits, the most talked-about part of the Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées opening party in March was a 4-meter-long mortadella.
The Italian sausage, which had been specially flown in from Bologna and, weighing 1.5 tons, had to be maneuvered into the store using a crane, was one of the 20 installations created by artist Laila Gohar, alongside hand-shaped butter sculptures, shrimp towers and a gigantic raspberry tart.
A far cry from the sit-down dinners or Champagne buffets that usually accompany brand launches and openings, Gohar’s creations were an experience in themselves: Guests randomly plucked vegetables from luscious pyramids or smeared their own bread with a cut-off butter “finger.”
“In settings that can be a little bit charged — most fashion events, design or art events — I enjoy using food as an instant ice breaker,” said the food artist, who has been working in the field for the past seven years and counts buzzy fashion brands Simone Rocha and Ganni amongst her clients.
“Often you see people walk into an event and at the start are a little bit on edge, scanning the room for who they know, looking around,” she continued. “When they are presented with an installation that is whimsical and requires their interaction, often there is this childlike curiosity and excitement that appears. This feeling takes off the edge and disarms people in a way, making them more likely to open up to each other and the situation.”
While creative food styling has always been popular with fashion events, brands are increasingly tapping chefs, food artists and set designers to turn the simple act of feeding a crowd into a multidimensional experience.
“There is a real weariness around a classic sit-down dinner: it’s no longer enough,” said Sarah Andelman, former creative director of Colette and founder of consulting agency Just An Idea. “So either it is enlivened by an artistic or musical performance, or the dinner becomes a performance in itself.”
Andelman, who in the past has tasked French fast-food chain Blend with creating a blue-tinted burger for a Colette event and tapped patissier Cédric Grolet to imagine an eye-shaped dessert for Schiaparelli’s debut ready-to-wear collection last October, sees playing with food as a way to create a lasting impression on partygoers.
“As there are so many fashion events, a brand really needs to stand out,” she said. “One way to do this is to offer a full, multisensory experience, both gustative and visual but above all Instagrammable.”
Insta-savvy brands were quick to catch up on the trend. Paris-based fashion designer Jacquemus, who has long been hailed as a personal branding pro, struck gold when instead of a regular fashion show, he invited guests to attend a family-style “petit déjeuner” complete with steaming hot chocolate, thick slices of bread and buttery croissants.
“There was no kitchen on site, so we had to get creative,” recalled Alix Lacloche, the French cook who created the quaint breakfast scene, complete with thrifted ceramics and huge vintage flour sieves doubling as breadbaskets. While Paris-based artisans, such as Le Petit Grain boulangerie for croissants, provided most of the food, the hot chocolate and fresh almond milk were homemade.
Lacloche, who has been a private caterer since 2012, has seen a real increase in demand for creative food events in the last couple of years. “I used to do regular catering gigs, like feeding the studio at Louis Vuitton in the days leading up to the show, but lately brands have been asking me to art direct their food events,” said the cook.
The reason, for her, is double. “Of course, Instagrammable food events are great communication tools: They get people talking about a brand in a much more authentic and personal way than just pictures of clothes,” said Lacloche. “But I think it’s also because food encompasses a lot of human values: We all want to eat and all react to food. It moves us, and puts us all on the same page.”
While the food professional remains cautious about the future of her industry, she’s certainly seen a shift in the way brands thinks about their food events. “People are tired of glass jars and small plates,” she explained. “A beauty brand expressly asked me to have everything whole and not portioned, so that guests have to dig in and bring their own touch to the food layout. The idea is create an interactive experience.”
This breach of etiquette remains particularly true for a certain kind of fashion brands – buzzy young designers like Jacquemus or lifestyle-oriented brands like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, with whom Lacloche will be collaborating for the second time in September. Will it spread to the higher fashion spheres?
“I think a high jewelry brand might get freaked out about people leaving crumbs everywhere,” laughed Lacloche. “Whereas for someone like Jacquemus, a crumb tell a story, which leads to a bigger story, which eventually leads you to buy a Jacquemus piece. It’s a whole art de vivre.”