A Historical Look at the Fashion Cafe

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From world-famous ateliers to designer hotspots, Historical Interiors is your weekly column for iconic decor, rare residential imagery, and cultural fashion landmarks.

Whole 30. Paleo. The Keto diet. While the list of food fads that have gone en vogue goes on and on, perhaps no culinary iteration was (or will ever be) more fashionable than the Fashion Cafe. Co-owned in sorts by supermodels Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer, and Christy Turlington, the couture version of Planet Hollywood opened its first location in New York in spring 1995. From hamburger grease to plate-or-platter glamour, it had all the mixings of ’90s excess, but after sister franchises began sprouting up across the globe, the chain was soon eclipsed by fraud and closed for good by 2000. Here, CR remembers the original Rockefeller Center location that began with a dream, a burger, and a lot of leg.

„The trendy, hipper-than-thou fashion crowd stuck out like Donna Karan in a Kmart far afield from the chic streets of downtown,“ one reporter commented on April 10, 1995. Decades before Rei Kawakubo would bring her cult boutique to NYC (and an ironic sign off on Midtown by the fashion community), the Fashion Cafe opened its doors at 51 Rockefeller Plaza.

Shiny and merchandised, the Fashion Cafe’s facade resembled more of a souvenir gift shop than an eatery with a large steel nameplate and passerby-friendly glass window panes. If the red carpet and stanchions outside did not properly introduce the restaurant to the non-fashion world around it, its bold title letters (displayed in three different fonts and sizes) surely did.

Most integral to the experience, a larger-than-life entryway was decorated as a camera’s shutter frame to welcome guests to the main dining area, where plushy, Bordeaux-colored booth seating, light up cocktail bars, and Tri State-themed murals continued to advertise the restaurant from inside. On full glass display, fashion trophies including the Giorgio Armani suit Jodie Foster wore to the Academy Awards and a tour bustier from Madonna hung above diners‘ heads, while a literal gift shop offered branded merch (over 28,000 tees were reportedly sold within the restaurant’s first four months of operation) as well as designer fashion pieces.

The Fashion Cafe was entrepreneurs Tommaso and Francesco Buti’s answer to ’90s-era tourist traps like Hard Rock Cafe and the influence of models of the time. With little to no focus on actual cuisine or even the runway itself, the brothers‘ intent was to sensationalize and then commodify pop trends and the dining experience. „With something like this, you cannot go too deeply into fashion,“ Tommaso, then 28, said ahead of the Fashion Cafe’s debut. „The public is not that educated and not that interested. They want to see more the glamour and the entertainment of fashion.“ On grand opening, the likes of Gianni and Donatella Versace, David Copperfield and Stephen Dorff joined Campbell, Macpherson, Schiffer, and Turlington, down the Rockefeller red carpet and inside for a meal du mode.

But not everything would be so glamorous for the Fashion Cafe. As Matt Haig, author of Brand Failures, pointed out, „The connection between models and food was not an obvious one, and ‚fashion‘ was not a theme that made people feel hungry.“ Through the presence of the supermodels (who, rather than „owners,“ later turned out to be paid ambassadors), the Butis were able to entice a number of investors to fund a million venture. But, as seven new locations began to pop up in the likes of New Orleans, London, and Jakarta, problems at home soon came to the forefront, including lack of rent and vendor payment. In 2000, it was revealed that the brothers were being indicted on 51 federal counts each of fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy, but by then the Fashion Cafe in NYC had been closed for nearly two years. In the end, Campbell and MacPherson accused Tomasso of stealing million after asking the two to further invest into the Fashion Cafe, and Schiffer withdrew entirely citing personal issues.

prev link: https://www.crfashionbook.com/culture/a22487526/naomi-campbell-claudia-schiffer-christy-turlington-supermodel-fashion-cafe/
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