Chocolatey concoctions hit the fashion world

By Aaron Leth
Special to the Daily

Imagine walking into a clothing store and enjoying a bite of a belt or savoring the taste of a necklace.

Few could fathom such a concept, but as part of a clothing design studio class, 18 University students entertained such an idea by concocting and showing chocolate-adorned fashions for last weekend’s Twin Cities Chocolate Extravaganza.

While the extravaganza only lasted two days, the actual fashion show preparation started more than two months ago.

The original idea came from University alumna Elizabeth Miller. Miller co-coordinated the event with Shoma Hokanson, who started the chocolate extravaganza three years ago.

Hokanson said the two had wanted to do a fashion show for a long time. With a spike in participation this year, they pitched the idea to University associate clothing design professor Elizabeth Bye.

“Because this was a first-time project, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Bye said.

But she said she needed a project for students in their third studio class, which focuses on material research and nontraditional material use.

Bye said the coordinators showed the students a video of the annual New York Chocolate Show for inspiration, and then surprised the students by making this show a competition. They gave each student $30 and told them to incorporate chocolate materials into their designs.

To help students execute the chocolate portions of the designs, Bye said she contacted area culinary schools for prospective helpers. That only yielded six chefs, so some students completed the chocolate part themselves.

Rebecca Gunthrie, a clothing design junior, said her design, named “Madame Mint,” was inspired by old Chinese movies featuring high collars and vivid colors. Her top and skirt ensemble included a truffle belt and buttons on the top and shoes. She also laced chocolate in a paisley pattern over the top.

“I didn’t want to use brown chocolate, because that’s too obvious,” Gunthrie said, opting to use only white and green chocolate.

“I was inspired most by mint chocolate,” she said.

Clothing design junior Kate Troutman designed an outfit that resembled what she called a “funky box of chocolates,” with a tan nylon top and a clear vinyl skirt stuffed with rainbow tulle. She laid chocolates in small cutout squares on the skirt.

Gunthrie collaborated with Amy Broderick, a pastry instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Broderick said her favorite medium to work with is chocolate.

“It’s so fun and artistic,” Broderick said. “So when Rebecca came to me with the ideas and said, ‘Could you do this?’ I was very open.”

Initially, many students wanted to place chocolate on the body or make clothes entirely from chocolate, Bye said, but that idea was quickly erased when brought to the chefs. They said the body temperature would melt the chocolate too quickly.

Broderick said Gunthrie’s embellishments are made from “tempered” chocolate, which is a chocolate that has been processed to set at a harder consistency than regular chocolate, similar to a Hershey’s Kiss. This allows the chocolate to melt more slowly and resist the models’ body heat.

At the fashion show, models came out in pairs or in groups of three each hour and posed for about 20 minutes to allow the public time to see each design.

Some students, including Gunthrie, waited until a few hours before their showing to put the chocolate on their garments, eliminating any chance for it to melt.

The fashion was judged by various chocolate chefs, including Katherine Gerdes, a Minneapolis fashion designer and third-season contestant on Bravo’s Project Runway.

“The ones I’ve seen, they all look amazing, especially the quality and construction,” Gerdes said. “For being students, I’m very impressed.”

Bye said the scoring criteria addressed the possibility of a design not having chocolate, so students paired with chocolate chefs did not have an advantage.

The first place winner received $1000, the second place winner received $750 and the third place winner received $500.

The winners would be allowed to use prize money to cover additional material costs on top of the $30, Bye said. The rest will be put toward the senior fashion show next year.

Gunthrie said at first, she was “all about winning the prize money,” but after going through the entire process, her outlook has changed.

“Now I’m just like, it’s done, whatever,” Gunthrie said. “My model, she’s so amazing and she did the best job. I’m really happy.”

Bye said the project came together well and the students learned a lot about the collaborative process.

“It’s a great opportunity for individual student and program visibility,” Bye said. “We’ve got very talented students and no two are alike. It’s really kind of exciting.”