Candy Couture: A Sweet Life of Fashioning Identities

Curator's Note

Ranging from its appearance on Project Runway to being featured at the epicenter of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” video, candy has outgrown its role as mere childhood treat and now has entered the world of couture. It emerges in countless images on clothing and accessories, serves as the literal material from which makeup and ensembles are produced, and even its packaging is recycled into elaborate costumes and creations.

While this emphasis on candy in art and fashion is not entirely new, what is most fascinating about this appropriation of candy as couture is that it demonstrates how we often perform our identities through a mixture of creativity, aesthetics, consumption, and waste. 

In this photo shoot for the spring 2013 fashion issue of New York Magazine, we see how the melding of clothing, art, and candy creates a performance of identity that is reminiscent of childhood fantasies, ripe with imagination, and filled with wonder. Whether Elle Fanning is decked out in gold, foil wrappers lying amongst a pile of butterscotch, donning a candy tiara like the Queen of Hearts, or wearing a dress made from licorice, she and this candy-scape’s plethora of sweet treats feed meanings about femininity, youth, beauty, and frivolity—all of which become conflated with the pleasures of consumption. Moreover, this example illustrates myriad complexities involved in our creations of identity because it represents both the conundrum of living in an age of late-capitalism and the cyclical nature of excess.

Although we often consider candy as a reward that is consumed in addition to food, when people employ candy as fashion, its meaning becomes doubly imbued with excess. It is transported out of the edible world and placed into the symbolic realm where it mainly functions as “eye candy” for our visual consumption only.

Likewise, even when people repurpose its wrappers for fashion, this recycling, nevertheless, still is steeped in waste since its production relies upon excessive consumption. Thus, candy couture not only reveals our attempts to imbue identities with creativity and play, but also ironically situates today’s performances of femininity as being synonymous with decadence, reward, and waste.


Carlnita, I found this fascinating. I think the relationship between couture clothing and fast-fashion clothing is an intriguing one to consider here; couture is often associated with fashionable, beautiful, elegant, and expensive clothing, whereas fast fashion (like you'd see at Forever 21 or H&M) is inexpensive, not always made out of the longest-lasting materials, etc. When I think of candy-related themes in fast fashion, it usually evokes cheaper costume jewelry, T-shirts with candy labels on them, etc. This could tie into your discussion of "decadence, reward, and waste" in very interesting ways!

Thank you for this insightful post, Carlnita. You're spot on that our consumption of candy and our fantasies about it evoke excess. There's no need when it comes to candy. When someone says something non-ironically like, "I need a Snickers," we tend to see that as a signal of misaligned values. This photo-shoot is particularly telling when it comes to excess, because it reproduces a dynamic that's familiar to anyone who's watched cooking shows or flipped through the food glossies: just as celebrity chefs remake elegant and elaborate versions of familiar favorites, such as mac and cheese or meatloaf, Will Cotton gives us an elegant and elaborate version of the candy necklaces and bracelets we wore (and ate) as children. Elle Fanning isn't the only one who can wear candy clothes, though hers are certainly more magical. So here is an excess indeed, but, like most high-end fashion and food, this version remains out of the reach of everyday consumers like us.

Thanks Stephanie and Eric for your keen comments! I certainly agree that there are several differences between the ways in which candy functions as “couture” versus its usage in “everyday” fashion that are definitely worth further consideration. Particularly, it seems as if we need to closely explore how these two aspects of fashion intersect within the marketplace as key means of feeding both literal and figurative desires.

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