What is high fashion’s obsession with cheap eats?

The latest fall fashion trends — from a crumbled packet of “it bag” potato chips to a pasta box crossbody clutch — all look like they belong in your mouth rather than a Fashion Week runway.

In June, artist and designer Nik Bentel announced the return of his viral Barilla-inspired shoulder bag, which first made the rounds on Twitter in August of last year. The refreshed design resembles a De Cecco pen box (there is no brand name on the new bag, unlike its predecessor) which is adorned with a delicate purse handle and elegant gold chain. Similar to its 2021 release, only 100 of Bentel’s recent “Pasta Bags” were available for sale for a limited time only.

When asked about the design of his bag, Bentel told Food & Wine: “I try to make each item unique, but I think this one is a little different due to the buzz online. I felt like I should make another one, but I think the aesthetics are also totally different.”

He continued: “A few small pasta companies approached me, asking me to collaborate on a bag of pasta. But I think you needed something that was a little more ubiquitous. There is a certain aesthetic that pasta companies look for in terms of advertising their pasta. They use certain colors, certain gradients, certain fonts and certain words, so I’ve tried to incorporate as much into that as possible.”

Bentel’s “Pasta Bag” can easily be mistaken for a regular box of pasta: the former sports vibrant shades of blue and yellow, a nutrition label on the side along with the weight of the pasta, indicated in both pounds and grams. There is also a brief description of the ‘pasta’ and multiple pictures of penne plastered on the front.

Along with Bentel, Balenciaga dived into food fashion last October. The international fashion house, in collaboration with Frito-Lay, has released its $1,500 clutch that resembles a crumpled and unwrapped bag of Lay’s potato chips. Called the “LOL Clutch,” the bag comes in four distinct “flavors”: Classic, Flamin’ Hot, Limón, and Salt & Vinegar. And while “flavors” aren’t explicitly mentioned on the bag, it’s not hard to guess simply from the design of the bags, which mimic OG chip packets.

The recent releases illustrate – quite prominently – high fashion’s longstanding obsession with cheap eats. Since 2014, junk foods have been a major source of inspiration in a number of haute couture pieces. Take, for example, Jeremy Scott’s McDonald’s-inspired Moschino collection, in which runway models dressed as McDonald’s employees and carried totes decorated with gold bows over plastic food trays. Or clutch bags inspired by the Chinese take-out boxes of Charlotte Olympia and Kate Spade. Or Anya Hindmarch’s cereal and soda themed accessories.

The intersection, although bizarre at first glance, is actually quite spot on considering that fast food and high fashion are not very far from each other. As journalist Zing Tsjeng explained, “Fast food is a sugary quick high, mixing well-being nostalgia with trashy cheerfulness. It’s like the experience of fashion itself: We’ve all had that instantaneous shot of pleasure when we buy something.” that we know we shouldn’t but can’t resist anyway.Put it another way: There’s a reason quinoa and brown rice hasn’t inspired a fashion collection.

That sentiment still holds true today, especially amid an ongoing pandemic when junk food consumption and cravings are at an all-time high. According to a January 2022 report released by MDPI, chips, cookies, ice cream and sugary drinks, such as regular soda, fruit drinks and juices, have all been popular food choices in recent months. Hence, it is no surprise that they are now making their renaissance in art and fashion.

Bentel told Food & Wine last year that his famous bag of Barilla pasta was created shortly after he enjoyed “his 100th bowl of penne” during the first few months of quarantine. It was then that he wondered how he could reuse the pasta box and finally decided to make a handbag out of it.

“The bag is an irreverent take on the last year of being inside,” Bentel explained. “By taking the mundane items we had lying around during the pandemic and turning them into something a little more thrilling for our post-pandemic world. The bag’s goal is to inspire some thought and reflection about the possibility of creating something exciting from the mundane.”

As for the “LOL Clutch,” Balenciaga creative director Demna was inspired to create the bag because he “loves chips in general” and “has already carried a bag of Lay’s chips as an accessory.” Earlier this year, Demna was spotted clutching an empty bag of Lay’s original wavy crisps at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp graduation show. The Georgian designer reportedly “kept his purse flat throughout the day, from his front-row seat at the student fashion show to the aftermath of festivities…”, according to Paper Mag.

High fashion, today, remains both attainable – and wearable – for only a select few. But high fashion combined with affordable foods changes the dynamic completely, allowing luxury clothing to be more personal and familiar to the public. Sure, carrying a $1,500 Lay clutch is extreme. But at least it looks like a bag of Lay’s chips, an item readily available at your nearest convenience store.

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An extension of high fashion’s obsession with cheap eats is also seen in the elegant bodega photo shoots recently popularized by actor Sydney Sweeney. Earlier this year, Sweeney wore a custom Miu Miu two-piece with matching Miu Miu gloves at a store near Hollywood Boulevard. The photoshoot, spearheaded by famed photographer Amber Asaly, took place right after Sweeney’s red carpet introduction at the season 2 premiere of “Euphoria.”

“The result is a delightfully funny and comically contrasting series of shots. Sweeney looks like a classic ingénue, wrapping herself up in a fur stole outside the Hollywood Wax Museum,” wrote W Mag’s Carolyn Twersky.[I]t is the contradiction between Sweeney, in her custom French look and bombshell beauty, versus the everyday humdrum of a Hollywood gift shop that makes photos so pleasurable. The actress seems very comfortable in the setting, even if she doesn’t fit in at all.”

Sweeney took part in a similar shoot after last year’s Golden Globes, when she posed in front of a nearby 7-Eleven, dressed in a pink Ralph & Russo dress and sipping a Big Gulp.

“There’s something so refreshing about seeing a suit-adorned Sweeney in the most pedestrian of places. Probably because who doesn’t have the urge to stuff their face with junk food after a night of squeezing into suits and making small talk? ” added Twersky.

Maybe that’s the appeal of it all: both high fashion and cheap eats are fun and whimsical, making them perfect for each other. And even if most consumers are unable to afford such mundane goods transformed into luxury, at least they will be fascinated by them.

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