In Hong Kong’s Stanley Market, vendor after vendor hawks the hottest US trends at a fraction of the cost. Everything from top-of-the-line Chanel knockoffs to slightly irregular designer jeans are proudly displayed—and all for pennies on the dollar. Tourists and locals don’t shy away from bulk shopping for these copycat wares and instead embrace that their “less than perfect” fashion is a statement in and of itself. It is less about what you bought and more about where you bought it.
In contrast, New York City designers who have risen to notoriety pride themselves on creating “something that no one has ever seen before”—even though fashion, as a whole, is cyclical and trends repeat from decade to decade. NYC designers who claim originality have merely peeled away the superfluous to expose a modern trend and improved upon the designs of the past to reconnect with their audience.
The same evolution can be seen in the world of Confectionary Couture. Baking has been traced to its genesis in Ancient Egypt and the word “cake” comes from an Old Norse word from the 13th Century. Cakes were first constructed with fruits, ginger, flour and eggs and baked in stone or clay make-shift ovens. It traveled well and was enjoyed by young and old alike.
Over time, the art of baking became more refined with the decorative element of frosting being added by the French in the 16th Century. This accessorizing of the cake inspired trends that spread across Europe and eventually led to what we think of as a modern day wedding cake—a multi-layered, tiered cake with white icing, first commissioned by Queen Victoria of England. Frosted cakes signified wealth, as sugar was still considered a luxury item in the 1700s.
The tiered wedding cake did not undergo a make-over until the 1950s when buttercream frosting and rolled fondant became all the rage. While professional bakers had been using fondant to preserve their cakes since the early 20th Century, it did not become fashionable to have a smoothly edged cake until halfway through the last century. Up to this point, fondant was as difficult to work with as embroidered silk, requiring the baker to pour warmed, melted fondant over the cake—a task that was very labor intensive and did not yield consistent results.
A backlash of buttercream-only exteriors had a moment on the cake scene in the 80s—(remember all the towering frosted creations at every wedding in the US that matched the bride’s sky-high frosted bangs?) But with the onset of reality tv and cooking shows, fondant has seen a resurgence as the preferred adornment for cakes; now rolled, moldable and able to be dyed bright colors.
As in fashion throughout the ages, the foundations of cake remain the same. A cake always starts with flour, eggs, butter and sugar much the same way a dress starts with fabric and thread. Confectionary adornments have advanced in buttercream and fondant fashioning, much as the embellishments and the decals on the items we wear. Our labels define us on red carpets and in magazines and this has carried over into what we put in our mouths. To own something created by a “designer” means something in today’s society versus a no-label garment. Perhaps the next trend in Confectionary Couture won’t be reflected in the designs, but rather in guests screaming at the happy couple on their wedding day, “Who are you eating?”
Photos by Hannah Soule for RBI Cakes