The places you dine in say as much about you as the clothes you wear – so much so that eating has become a pastime and fashion statement in itself.
What does your menu say about you? In today’s content-conscious world, the food you eat and the cocktails you sip reveal as much about your personal style as the clothes you wear while you’re doing it. As the New Zealand restaurant industry continues to boom (buzz about a new opening every week, two-hour waiting times at the hottest spots), food has practically become more fashionable than fashion itself.
Whether you’re taking a bird’s-eye shot of your Two Grey acai bowl on a Saturday morning in Wellington; packing your Instagram story with snaps of your girls’ lunch at Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay; snapping a cake from fashion’s favourite baker, The Caker; or sipping prosecco on the sidewalk outside Auckland’s Coco’s Cantina on a Friday night, it’s all about the vibe.
And just like posting a photo of a new outfit on Instagram, by tagging a restaurant or sharing a snap of your meal, you’re sharing an insight into your personal brand and the values you represent.
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However, it’s not about how much you’re spending on dinner, whether you’re wearing a string of pearls or a shell necklace. It’s your choice of restaurant, café or bar that tells a story about you and your crew, whether it’s conscious or not. It’s also reflective of the younger generation’s focus on spending their cash on moments, rather than objects.
“I have a similar approach to food as I do to fashion,” says Beck Wadworth, founder of stationery brand An Organised Life. Beck regularly collaborates with fashion, beauty and interiors brands and has a strong sense of her own aesthetic, carefully choosing who she partners with to ensure the right alignment. “Now that I’m a wee bit older, I’m more about quality and I invest in things that I want to have around for a long time,” she says.
“I’m all about the story of the brand – and I’m the same with food. If I’m going to spend money I’ve worked hard for on food, I want to know what I’m getting. I always research somewhere before I go, quite often on social media. I only want to spend my money on places that I think have a good story and good food.”
When it comes to good food, you can’t beat a La Peche pop-up, if the kudos on Instagram is anything to go by. The duo behind the Auckland event du jour, Emma Ogilvie and Nick Landsman, deliver a new-school French vibe to random locations, collaborating with restaurants, sommeliers and chefs to create ’gram-worthy street-food-style experiences for a limited time only. They recently opened Celeste, a permanent space on Auckland’s K’Road that has become fashion’s favourite spot of the moment.
A Celeste regular is Albert Cho, who created the cult Instagram account @eatlitfood. After seeing too many pictures of people at restaurants and not enough critique about whether the food was actually any good, he launched the most searingly honest, and humorous, account in the game. He unashamedly calls out (and tags in) eateries that don’t live up to his high standards, while raving about his epic dining experiences – from new openings to the best under-the-radar restaurants you’ve never heard of.
“I didn’t start Eat Lit Food with a plan or agenda,” says Albert. “I’ve always liked dining out and just thought I’d put my camera roll clogged with food photos to use. I started by simply posting them with the name of the dish as the caption, then started writing one or two lines of my honest opinion about each dish, which my friends found hilarious. One thing led to another, the captions got longer and the number of followers kept growing.”
He describes New Zealand’s dining scene as underrated. “My friends always say that there’s nothing to eat, and that’s what happens when you only eat white-people food. Café culture is strong, the quality of New Zealand meat and seafood is out the gate and Asian cuisine – especially in Auckland, like Bunga Raya and Kingston Noodles – is no joke.”
Put simply, Albert is passionate about food – and so is his following, who enthusiastically tag their friends to suggest visiting the eateries he reviews. You’ll find many local fashion designers and industry insiders among his readership too.
During New Zealand Fashion Week 2019, local brands like Mina and Yu Mei chose to eschew the traditional fashion show for intimate dining experiences. Likewise, Kiwi brand Paris Georgia hosted a lunch at Sydney restaurant Fred’s during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia with models ‘preparing’ and serving food as part of the show.
And the trend is catching on, with brands seeking to create environments around their products and engage the industry – and subsequently, customers – on a more holistic level. What better way to form relationships and tell a brand’s story than over a shared meal?
Food has proven to be an ongoing trend at New York Fashion Week too, with designers holding luncheons and incorporating on-theme snacks as part of their shows. Designer Gabriela Hearst fuelled her guests with a pasta, cheese and prosciutto-packed lunch at Café Altro Paradiso in SoHo; Michael Kors provided a breakfast of gold leaf-flecked chocolate croissants; 50,000 gallons of popcorn covered the floor at the Calvin Klein show and guests viewing Raf Simons’ menswear collection were encouraged to help themselves to the lavish spread of bread, cheese, cake, fruit and wine that covered the runway. Insta-favourite brand Mansur Gavriel seated VIPs at tables and served them Ladurée desserts, and in December, Alexander Wang offered cocktails and caviar before his show – feasts not only for the eyes, but for hungry bellies, too.
What strikes a chord most about this new food movement is that it embraces the idea of different strokes for different folks. Regardless of whether you’re someone who knows about a culinary pop-up before it’s even been announced, or you’re just here for the fried chicken at old favourite Mexico, it’s all about the vibe. Your vibe.
This story originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly Issue 1, 2019