Food and Fashion. Fashion and Food. We wake up. We decide what to wear. We decide what to eat. The capricious whims of our visual appetites guide our sartorial and culinary decisions. But food and fashion also have something important and practical in common: they are art forms through which we express ourselves effortlessly, everyday.
So it’s natural that fashion designers, masters of another kind of taste, would want to apply their à la minute aesthetics to our daily bread. Enter the American Fashion Cookbook; a compilation of more than a 100 eclectic and dependable recipes contributed by the members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Dishes range from Marc Ecko’s “Adults Only” Chocolate Chip Cookies to Tory Burch’s Andalusian Gazpacho.
I will completely grant that this cookbook must have been a nightmare to compile. Too many cooks, or in this case fashion designers, each illustrating their favourite dish in a distinct style makes for an unnatural mish-mash. One illustration, such as Betsey Johnson’s for her Aunt Elsie’s Sour Cherry Pie, may occupy an entire page and be blithe and delightful. The following, however, might resemble a scientific diagram, featuring ruler-straight lines and squirmy shrimp sitting atop a block of “Swedish Sandwich Tart.” Though each designer’s illustration style is interesting to behold, visually this becomes a kind of unsettling, nauseating potluck you wish had just been catered.
Cynthia Rowley decrees in the foreword: “Cooking to me is exactly the same as designing a collection… you have all these ingredients and you have to think of every detail.” Ironically, visual details are where this fashion cookbook falls like a wimpy pumpkin soufflé. Contributing to this hodge-podgery is a grab-bag of consistency no-nos: cramped pages, awkward text justification, and really bad fonts. Each page features multiple sizes of Times New Roman, with page numbers in a mock-handwritten Comic Sans, polished off with the addition of sans-serif running heads. Call me picky, but fonts are important. Even though the cookbook’s editors picked clean visual backgrounds for the recipes, the overall effect is still confused at the worst of times—and charmingly random at best. Basically, the book is undercooked: slightly hard to take in, but still showing promise of improvement given more time and attention.
The saving grace of American Fashion Cookbook is recipe peeping. I can just imagine Isaac Mizrahi tossing his Mushroom Truffle Spaghetti for chatty divas. Or maybe Bill Blass serving meatballs to his oldest friends in no doubt the most glamorous version of Pyrex ever created. From this perspective, the CFDA served up a homey slice of success.
I am also very thankful to the CFDA for passing along Zac Posen’s butterscotch wafers. My friend Chris and I found them crunchy but yielding and downright flavourful. And I also thank Martha Stewart for prompting us to try them by listing them a “must-have right away” in the foreword. If we’re talking straight food, the book has not disappointed, and that’s the real meat and potatoes. But the drivers of American fashion know that packaging counts, and this queasy, lime-coloured book needs refashioning. If anyone can do it, it’s the CFDA. Allez (haute) cuisine.
American Fashion Cookbook, Assouline, 2009
reviewed by Stephanie Herold
photography by Katie Merchant