Fulvio Bonavia’s fashion editorial for the much-publicized debut of Garage magazine is already creating quite a stir. Dasha Zhukova, the former editor of Pop magazine and companion to Roman Abramovich, commissioned Bonavia to create edible couture pieces like a lettuce gown by Alexander McQueen and a Moncler made from anchovies. But this is hardly Bonavia’s first foray into edible fashion.
Along with his award-winning work as a commercial photographer, he’s made quite a name for himself thanks to his signature way of combining couture with “common” ingredients to create truly extraordinary images that viewers may wish to both eat and wear. He captured the photography, foodie and fashion world’s attention in 2009, when he published a rich, witty, luscious photographic book, A Matter of Taste, featuring entire “collections” of edible fashion. And a few months later, Bonavia, 40 years-old and based between Milan and New York, was commissioned to elaborate on the same “food & fashion” theme by France’s Le Figaro magazine.
How did this concept of pairing food with fashion come about?
Several years ago, I was contacted by a publishing house from Australia. They had seen a photo of mine for an ad, in which I’d “created” an armchair made of serpents and were intrigued by my way of combining things that have nothing to do with each other. They proposed a book of still life pictures, but the subjects and themes were very open, they left it up to me. It took me a while to decide what I wanted to do, which was create my own fashion “collection” out of food.
After the book was published, I was then commissioned by Le Figaro to do a spread for their magazine. They asked me to interpret 10 different “personalities” of women – chic, bohemian, sporty – and to “design” pieces for each kind of woman out of food. They gave me access to real designer pieces, like Chanel bags, Cartier earrings, Laboutin boots – pieces tied to French high fashion. In my book, instead, I tried to stay away from “real” styles or current designers and just create kind of timeless pieces that couldn’t be categorized in a specific time period or style.
Are your pictures in any way a comment about the excessive importance we place on “designer” objects and “gourmet” food?
The interesting concept for me was that both food and fashion are “objects of desire”. People with means tend to indulge themselves with what they choose to wear and what they eat. But for me, the fun thing was to make “simple” food elegant. I mean, usually food photography is considered “successful” when it makes you want to eat what you see. But what my aim was is to make something “cheap” , something like broccoli that you can find at any old supermarket, into something chic and elegant.
How do these unusual “pairings” you create between the food and the accessory come about, exactly? Do you start with the object or the food?
There’s not a fixed rule, it could start with one thing or another. I pay a lot of attention to texture, that’s what first catches my eye as a photographer. For example, the texture of a Chanel bag immediately reminded me of blackberries. Or the Laboutin boot, which had a leopard pattern, reminded me of a crepe sprinkled with powdered sugar. But some foods have an interesting texture in and of themselves, and so I begin with that. I’m really inspired by fish – their silvery, almost metallic look. And the softness of cauliflower, for example, struck me as perfect for a hat. Or the volume of broccoli seemed suited for a handbag. It really all depends. Each picture and pairing came about in its own way.
Can you tell us a little about your technique: are you using actual food for these accessories?
Well, at the time of the book, I was shooting in large-format film not digital. The main thing about taking pictures with fresh food – and yes, everything was real – is that you have to be fast. But really, as with the conception, every picture’s execution has its own different story. But using the bags as an example, what I would do is make a mock-up of the bag –
With real food, real berries?
Yes, yes (laughing). Real berries. I’d create this mock-up of a handbag. And then in post-production, I’d “attach” the handle or chain. But this is why I have to work fast. When you’re working with fresh produce, it has to be shot immediately.
What’s one of the more difficult images you’ve shot?
One of the hardest images was the fish belt, I have to admit. I love fish, I love the look of it – and one of my next projects will be entirely fish-centred – but to make this belt, I had to string up all the fish, one by one, on transparent wire. That image actually needed a lot of retouching. There was, um, quite a bit of blood to get rid of.
You must travel a lot for your work. Do you see a connection between a culture’s eating habits and the way they dress?
Let’s take Italy and France... Actually, it would seem that the two places, so close geographically and culturally, would be similar, but I do notice big difference when it comes to style, especially in the young people. I was there recently, and kept noticing how the teenagers seemed to dress with much more “personality” than they do here in Italy. And of course, people in Italy dress – and eat – very well, but there seems to be less diffused creativity when it comes to both fashion and cuisine.
We are very tied to tradition here, and perhaps it comes at the sacrifice of creativity to some degree; I think Italy could benefit with more experimentation in both fields. But we have, let’s say, a lot to “lose” – and experimenting entails a certain amount of risk. But take a place like New York, for example. America isn’t weighed down by this global expectation of being the shrine to good food and good taste and good style. And so in a city like New York, people take more risks because there aren’t these generations of expectations. This can be very liberating.
Do you more readily indulge in expensive meals or expensive clothes?
Oh, food. Absolutely, food. I’m not very particular about my clothes.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
Well, here’s the thing. Being Italian, we are really used to eating well and so, in a way, it becomes less memorable and if it is “memorable” it’s usually because of the setting or atmosphere and less for the food, which is really almost always good. So in terms of something less “familiar”, I’ve had some truly memorable experiences with Japanese food. There’s a place in Los Angeles called Sasabune, that I’ll never forget. I ate sushi Omakase-style, which is when you put yourself entirely in the hands of a chef, who prepares you special things off the menu. You don’t know what’s coming, from the beginning to the end. It was incredible. That being said, I’m here in Tuscany now, and really, I’m just surrounded by incredible food every day, wherever I go. But perhaps it’s too familiar to be “memorable”.
What’s the one piece of clothing you couldn’t live without?
The one food you could never give up? Clothing… nothing comes to mind, really. But food? That’s easy: pasta. I know it sounds predictable from an Italian, but it’s the one thing I truly miss when I’m abroad. My pasta. I just can’t do without it, it’s in my blood, I suppose.