There’s just one day left of the Food & Fashion exhibition at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, but the electricity and creativity surrounding these cultural tenets happens every day, everywhere. What FIT curators, Melissa Marra-Alvarez and Elizabeth Way teach us through the exhibition and the accompanying book, is, not only has there been a fascination with the two heavyweights of expression for centuries, but today, the utilization of the two to identify who we are has gained momentum and has definitely become more mainstream.
Scroll through Instagram right now and you may see things like Betsy Johnson’s “Nice Buns” Burger Bag, Delicacies Pasta jewelry, or the Tiniest Croissant Charm collaboration by Catbird and L’Appartment 4F. Recently, while watching a YouTube video of Chef Stefano Secchi of NYC’s Rezdora creating pasatelli en brodo, he was wearing a black graphic t-shirt, with Tutto Fa Brodo in bright white on the front. The phrase, which translates to “everything makes stock” could, on the one hand, be seen as just a fun graphic to wear, but, on the other, could carry more weight as ideas surrounding waste have a sense of urgency today more than ever before.
It is no wonder when you walk around the exhibition, statements like “You are What You Eat” have also been turned into “We Eat What We Are,” demonstrating the blurring of the lines between how we identify and express ourselves—culturally, politically, sexually, etc.— and how and what we eat.
A week after the exhibition opened in September, curators Way and Alvarez sat down with Kerry Diamond, host of the Radio Cherry Bombe podcast and founder of Cherry Bombe media company. Years before heading up the ever-growing network which shines a light on women in the food industry, Diamond worked as a beauty editor for various fashion magazines. Her knowledge of both industries and experience position her perfectly to add insight and perspective to the conversation with the FIT curators.
Way tells Diamond that the kernel of the idea began with a concept surrounding the senses, and, although the pitch was met with intrigue and positivity, they quickly realized it could become overwhelming and too complicated, however. They decided paring down to one theme made the most sense. It was over a lunch in 2018, Alvarez recalls, when they decided to focus on taste. “While we were digging, we started to realize just how vast the topic was, and that’s when the idea really took off.” Even the word taste instantly connects the worlds of food and fashion.
As Diamond adds, the timing for such an exhibition and book is amazing. Food and fashion have never been more closely linked as they are today. With recent trends like food print clothing and the Grocery Girl aesthetic, to the Girl Dinner, and Tomato Girl Summer, the connections between food and fashion and personal expression and the decisions behind them are illustrated all over social media. And while the imagery boldly and visually takes over places like Instagram and Tiktok, it also creates virtual conversations that speaks simultaneously about the joy surrounding creative intersections, as well as the intensity around topics like gender, inequality, religion, body positivity, and the environment.
“The exhibition is organized thematically,” Way says. “Starting at the beginning of the
day with breakfast in the fashion kitchen.” Complete with an ornate SMEG refrigerator and toaster, the kitchen beckons back to the 50s with a nod to iconic diners and dressed-to-the-nines housewives. Visitors then move to the market, a fast food lunch, and even catch a glimpse at Moschino’s McDonald’s line of 2014 or food prints, like the Pasta Puffer by Rachel Antonoff. You then segue into the sweets shoppe and a high-end restaurant for dinner, all carried along by fashions created by designers around the globe. Throughout the book and exhibition, viewers get a two-fold experience where the fun and whimsical side of fashion catches the eye, then you soon notice, as Way explains, “the many metaphorical ways where fashion ‘gloms onto the food world to talk about trends, consumerism, or consumption. One of the final legs of the exhibition addresses sustainability, the environment with many items actually repurposed from food to clothing.
Food is so much about identity. Whether you openly carry a purse in the shape of a baguette or wear clothing made from milk or old water bottles, we are often walking billboards that display the way we think, vote, act, and eat. If we are going to open the door to conversations around big subjects and seep into the collective consciousness, we may as well have fun and be fashionable while doing it. Perhaps just give us a few days, however, because Thanksgiving and the days surrounding it, just might be our least fashionable time of year.