Food, cocktails, wine–and sex appeal
I got my new issue of Chefwear magazine in the mail yesterday (how do I get on these mailing lists, anyway?) and was browsing through it–not that I’m a chef, but it’s always fun to spot trends, and chef wear, I’ll have you know, is very trendy.
There are the pattern pants, for example, on page 5: a pair of brown tighties with pastel-hued cupcakes, and a floral pattern with pink, white and green poseys (called “Camo Blossom”, as if the chef were playing paintball in a garden). Then there are hats (a black skull cap looks like something Khadafy might wear), and chef’s jackets in, yes, traditional white, but also “smoke,” “avocado,” “sweet potato” and “chile” (as in pepper). My favorite is a pair of pants you might see on some über jock at the gym. It’s called the “Zipper Fly Ultimate.”
What’s next, chef’s underwear? If Chefwear magazine goes any further, it’s basically going to be the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Chefs are sexy. That’s the new selling point. Ever wonder why Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay and Michael Chiarello got where they are? Not saying they’re not good cooks, but their looks don’t hurt. Was Escoffier hot? Irma S. Rombauer? Julia Child wasn’t. Nor was Jacques Pepin, even in his youth. They were celebrated for pure talent. But that was pre-TMZ and our worship of hot celebrities.
By the way, have you noticed that every mixologist who pops up in magazines looks like Johnny Depp? Those little soul patches, the matted hair, the sculpted bodies. Could a fat mixologist even get a job, no matter how talented? I wonder. And don’t even get me started on waitstaff. Half the population of San Francisco consists of hot waitrons.
I remember when the cult of the “celebrity winemaker” arose in the 1980s. That was the start. Suddenly, instead of the wines themselves being front and center, it was the winemakers. Not that they were all good-looking, but many of them were, and it didn’t hurt magazine sales to put them on the covers. I’m not just talking men. Women, too. There is a certain magazine I could mention but won’t, at the risk of being sued (and it’s not the one I work for now), whose editor told me that whenever I wrote a story that involved a photograph, the publisher wanted well-endowed women, preferably showing cleavage. Sex sold then, and it sells now, even in the wine industry.
What this brings up is something that impacts the sale of all products in America–and let’s not forget, wine is still just a product. Whether it’s soap, jeans or movies, a commercial product needs to appeal to potential buyers on some primeval level–and what could be more primeval than sex appeal? Now, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cult wines, and why they appeal to people who can afford them. Cult wines don’t use sex, per se, to sell themselves, but they use something akin to it. When we see a gorgeous model in an advertisement or commercial, the subliminal message is: You desire this person, don’t you? Well, you can probably never have him or her, but if you buy this product, you’re at least a little closer to realizing your fantasy. Let us now move onto cult wines. No sane buyer of cult wines, even in China, probably thinks he can physically possess the winemaker (if they even know what the winemaker looks like). But there’s still this appeal to dreamy aspirations, the suggestion that if you buy this wine, you will somehow, magically, partake of something better and more beautiful than anything in your current drab life, and be a happier, more fulfilled person.
When people spend money on things they don’t really need (as opposed to mortages, electricity, gas, etc.), there’s usually something aspirational going on. There were numerous anecdotes, pre-recession, that producers who couldn’t sell their wines suddenly could, after they raised the price! (If something was affordable, people assumed it sucked.) Today’s chefs and mixologists–or the professional P.R. people who handle them–understand this aspirational quality to marketing. What’s less understood, but needs research, are the psychological underpinnings, the deep drives hidden in the id, that drive people to buy cult wine.
Myself, I just try to do my job reviewing the stuff. I have my tastes in winemakers, same as you, but hey, it doesn’t impact my scores. By the way, can wine writers be as sexy as mixologists? Let me know who you think the hottest wine writer is. The winner gets a centerfold here at steveheimoff.com.