What do fashion people eat? I don’t mean at parties or events. I’m talking about behind the scenes on editorial and commercial shoots, where models, stylists, photographer and crew each have their own requirements. 

“Food is 99 per cent of the chat on set,” says London-based producer Karla Shield, who has worked for brands including Net-A-Porter and Victoria Beckham. Shoots bring together a disparate group of strangers – make-up artists, photo assistants, set builders – who spend long periods of time with nothing to do. The buffet inevitably becomes a focal point.

“People also make judgements on how much they’ve enjoyed a job based on the food,” says Shield. “If you’re having a difficult morning, a good lunch can lift everyone for the afternoon. If the food isn’t good, people will moan about it for the rest of the day. For producers, the food is a tactic for thinking strategically about what makes people happy and being a good host. If you work with a photographer multiple times, you will have paid attention to what they like.”

Cara Delevingne at the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week in 2013
Cara Delevingne at the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week in 2013 © Richard Young/Shutterstock

Some studios provide in-house catering, which can be a deciding factor in whether they get booked over the competition. Mike McCartney runs Holborn Studios in London’s Shoreditch. In 2020, he teamed up with chefs Lorcan and Fin Spiteri to upgrade the studio’s standard “meat and potato” hot meals and sandwich platters. Dishes on their new seasonal menu include braised chickpeas with courgette and roasted cauliflower and fennel. Now clients are pre-ordering more of their catering through the studio (instead of using external suppliers) and McCartney has seen a major uptick in longer (five- to 10-day) bookings. Their food is driving business.

“What astounds me is how much people eat on set,” says Kate Trelawny (stockwellkitchen.com), who caters shoots for Vogue, Gucci, H&M and Zara. She typically provides options throughout the day: “Three-course breakfasts with eggs to order, lunch with a meat or fish and vegan dish, five salads, a couple of puddings; then afternoon tea and cakes.” The mostly male crews tend to have the heartiest appetites. But rolling buffets of delicious free food can make gluttons of anyone. For Trelawny’s roast chicken, she sources from one of the best butcher’s in London, M Moen & Sons in Clapham. Sides include cavolo-nero pesto, romesco and black-garlic aioli. Her Ottolenghi-esque salads always include at least one slaw, perhaps with green mango (“something zingy and fresh”).

Sometimes you can identify new food trends among the fashion set that have broader implications for the catering industry. “I get my best tips about new diets or superfoods on set,” says Shield. “Years ago I was recommended sea moss gel by a brilliant manicurist and I’ve suddenly seen it surge in popularity online.” 

A selection of dishes by Rose Chalalai Singh
A selection of dishes by Rose Chalalai Singh

Often eating habits are more of a touchstone: avocados may be environmentally problematic but the wider demand for them on toast hasn’t subsided one bit, despite alternatives like pea guacamole. And, no surprise, dietary preferences (or possibly fads) first bubble through on set. “It used to be just celebrities with a rider. Now the whole crew can be just as discerning,” says Shield. “I get a lot of people who say they can’t eat nightshades,” reports Trelawny of a category that includes tomatoes, aubergine and peppers. Dietary foibles do get dressed up as restrictions. As one shoot manager told me: “A lot of the time people are incredibly specific in the ordering process, then on shoot day you see people with gluten intolerances shovelling down bread, and get complaints about the lack of meat when half the team is supposedly vegetarian.”

Contrary to expectation, healthy isn’t always the priority. For every supermodel or celebrity who insists on alkaline water and broccoli salad, another asks for McDonald’s or KFC. Alex Key and Freddie Woodruff of NOCO cater shoots for brands including Loewe, Burberry and Gucci. “When I first started with Fred, I said no carbs, we can’t do pasta,” says Key. “Then we put cacio e pepe with bucatini and garlic and rosemary pangrattato on the menu, and people loved it.”

Models eat backstage at Zac Posen’s 2016 New York Fashion Week show
Models eat backstage at Zac Posen’s 2016 New York Fashion Week show © Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
Temaki rolls by Nami Nori
Temaki rolls by Nami Nori

Their desserts go down a storm too: salted-caramel brownies, tiramisù and a retro pineapple cake “that people go nuts for”, says Woodruff. Paris-based Rose Chalalai Singh, who has catered shoots for Rick Owens and Dior, rounds off her Asian-inspired spreads with coconut flan and mochi. Not everyone will eat them, but sweet things are essential for keeping spirits up and energy high. 

Of course, some sets live up to the Absolutely Fabulous hype. New York’s Nami Nori caters shoots for Karl Lagerfeld Paris and Louis Vuitton and is known to dispatch a small brigade to hand-roll toro caviar and spicy lobster temaki on site. “The [crew] always like the performance of their food being made in front of their eyes,” says chef Jihan Lee. Shield recalls shoots in Paris where everyone sat down together for three-course plated lunches with wine. At Holborn Studios, cocktails are available on request, though have yet to be requested by any client. “I know from my parents’ era [in the 1980s/’90s] that drinking used to be a normal part of shoots,” says McCartney. “Now shoots tend to be alcohol-free zones.” Probably for the best. 


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