This April, join us as we take a deep dive into the future of food. Here's where now meets next.
When Uniqlo asked Thomas McNaughton, the blond-haired, blue-eyed chef behind San Francisco hits like flour + water and Central Kitchen, to dream up dishes based around their fall 2013 collection, he thought he was writing up the recipes for only the shoot (and eventual iPad app). He didn't imagine he'd be slipping into the red button-down shirt and khakis that inspired his Meyer lemon posset. Or modeling them for the camera.
"Both fashion and food are linked with statements: chefs making statements about what they want to cook, and fashion with what they want to produce," McNaughton explains to me over the phone.
He chuckles. "It's the old cliché: Chefs are the new rock stars."
Maybe the rock star bit is getting tired, but one thing McNaughton is talking about isn't: that chefs are the new fashion creatives, which is why you're starting to see more collaborations among fashion brands and envelope-pushing chefs (see all the food x fashion projects below).
We're not talking about clothes made uniquely for the kitchen, like the number of chefs designing their own aprons—"I feel like chefs are taking out their aprons before picking out what kind of food they want to cook," McNaughton jokes—but gear for the everyday, the masses and, yes, at times, the pro cook.
That means campaigns with big-name brands, from McNaughton and a gang of other chefs striking a pose as the faces of Uniqlo to a recent sneaker head- and line cook-approved slew of Vans designed by Animal's Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. It also means teaming up with more niche brands, as seen with one of D.C.'s biggest openings last year: Maketto, a massive retail-restaurant space from Durkl's Will Sharp and Toki Underground's founding chef, Erik Bruner-Yang, and their soon-to-launch Maketto clothing line. And it certainly means chefs taking the industry into their own hands, like Hanjip's Chris Oh designing his own shoes and modern-day chef coats, and Nix in New York City tapping fashion friends for the stylish smocks for servers and somms.
Hanjip's Chris Oh | Photo: Courtesy of Chris Oh
"The fashion world is obsessed with the food world, since food is so cool right now," Izzy Grinspan, an editor at The Cut, explains. "I think everyone has seen the value in combining your brand with another brand."
Previously, the collaboration phenomenon was something we'd seen separately in both the fashion and food worlds, especially in the past year. It seems like every day some chef is inviting another to take over his or her kitchen for the night, whether to promote a roving chef on a cookbook tour or just to switch things up. The same goes for fashion.
"2015 was the year of collaboration," a menswear designer friend told me early on as I was researching this story. And fashion media ate it up, from high-low partnerships like Balmain at H&M to cult brand-to-cult brand mash-ups like Supreme x Undercover. Embedded within these listicles dedicated to the bonafide trend is a different kind of collaboration, one that is more indicative of this food x fashion one we see just on the rise. Among the fashion-brand-takes-over-other-fashion-brand deal are more pop-culture-driven partnerships, like Jimmy Fallon and J.Crew and the TV show Empire and Adidas. Enter the perfect moment to introduce the new pop culture darling, the chef.
"This melding of fashion and food is coming together, and they're testing it right now," Sharp says. "I think more and more you're going to see official big collaborations with chefs and restaurant groups, and it all works in a very simple way: If your profile is high enough, you're in."
Or sometimes it's even just proximity and the fluidity of these creative fields. Supreme got into designing Trois Familia and Jon & Vinny's staff shirts simply because they share a parking lot in L.A. How Maketto happened is merely due to an excess of space and an entrepreneurial landlord who introduced Sharp to Bruner-Yang.
"I said no for the first year. I say no all the time," Bruner-Yang says with a laugh. "The growth was good, but it wasn't progressing in a way that made it interesting, and we wanted to push that envelope. What we did here was going to be important for the area that I live in."
So began construction on the two-level, 5,000-square-foot space, where now a catwalk connects the floors, and local third-wave coffee fuels shoppers.
"I think this is a good look into what we either purposely or accidentally built with Maketto," Sharp says. "From where I stand in the fashion world, there are 20 things you can make every season. As you play with it, every line looks the same, so a lot of these brands are floundering to make themselves different. The best way to do it is to get into lifestyle."
And, here, the buzzword of 2016 finally makes its appearance. Merriam-Webster defines it as the "typical way of life of an individual, group or culture." That is to say, something that encompasses much more than specific, isolated interests and hobbies, instead threading it altogether into one cohesive way of living.
"That is something that we will be seeing more of: weaving personal style and aesthetic into the restaurant," Gheanna Emelia, formerly of food and fashion magazine Brutal, who's now more fully in the latter world as the lead trainer on customer experience at Everlane. "It's a new audience in a way, even beyond food and fashion."
"It's the whole package sorta thing," Ryan Smith, the creative director of McGuire Moorman Hospitality in Austin, Texas, and the brains behind the restaurant group's vibrant staff uniforms, adds. "We're asking, 'Why can't every part of my day include exactly what I want to wear, eat, listen to, smell and be inspired by?'"
Sure, the restaurant can be that extension of fluffy, feel-good, Instagrammable lifestyle, but this partnership isn't just artistic expression. It's also business, from which both brands and chefs can benefit.
The uniforms at NYC's Nix | Photo: Sidney Bensimon
"It's really about marketing, and if it's slow for everyone, we're like, 'Let's do a bunch of stuff,' which allows us to stay relevant," Bruner-Yang says. "Look at Gosha and Reebok. It basically brought Reebok back in the game."
He's referring to Gosha Rubchinskiy, the Russian-born menswear designer of the moment, who wowed the fashion elite earlier this year with his playful, Soviet-inspired fall collection. But how does that relate to the 121-year-old squeaky-clean shoe brand worn by nurses? Well, that's the beauty of it.
"Collaborations are really exciting, because more minds are better than one," Camille Becerra, the chef at Café Henrie in New York City and the onetime designer of chef-focused greenmarket bags for Everlane, says. "You're creating something that you wouldn't create by yourself."
These cross-industry projects also mean exposure to a new audience, aka a new pool of consumers.
"When you go back through Anna Wintour's career, you see she revolutionized fashion by doing one thing: putting a movie star on her cover," Sharp says. "It seems so essential now, but no one wanted to see a movie star on the cover."
And that's the key: evolution. As fast fashion changes the landscape and speed of trends, and social media opens up the accessibility and hive mind of chefs, the two industries both cling to the same thing: the romantic idea of making a statement through storytelling.
"A lot of these chefs are personally interesting people with stories, and that's what fashion is about more than ever right now," Sharp says. "Look at Erik. He looks cool. When you used to think of what a chef looked like, you thought of an old French guy."
Instead of digressing, you see more overlap in the two industries as these stories progress—raising up the humble maker, focusing on pristine raw materials, prolonging the experience of an ephemeral product. Where's this alignment headed next? Who knows. But McNaughton sums up the mutuality of the two well.
"You can interplay the words food and cuisine with fashion completely," he says.
Looks like food isn't going out of fashion anytime soon.
Find flour + water here, or in our DINE app.
Find Central Kitchen here, or in our DINE app.
Find Animal here, or in our DINE app.
Find Maketto here, or in our DINE app.
Find Toki Underground here, or in our DINE app.
Find Hanjip here, or in our DINE app.
Find Nix here, or in our DINE app.
Find Trois Familia here, or in our DINE app.
Find Jon & Vinny's here, or in our DINE app.