If Willy Wonka were to design a fashion show, it might look something like The Heart of America Foundation‘s Charity in Chocolate. For this annual event, the area’s most inventive chefs assemble outfits made entirely of the popular confection—dark, milk or white, anything goes—and the jewelry is usually crafted out of sugar. The models then gamely strut their stuff on the runway; the best ensemble wins!
Shaun McCarty and Carlo Figerella, two veterans of the event, discussed the challenges of making chocolate fashionable during a private preview Monday night at Boxwood Winery’s chic Chevy Chase tasting room. The biggest problem? Chocolate melts. Keeping it off the skin as much as possible is crucial, and backstage is kept to a balmy 30 degrees.
Gravity is another issue; chocolate does not like to move very much, and the dresses often weigh 30 to 50 pounds. Figerella said he once made shoes for a model, only to watch them collapse as soon as she stepped into them.
McCarty also talked about “blooming,” or when chocolate develops an unattractive, milky film. It happened on the back of one of the outfits he designed, after it was already on the model. His solution was to use lacquer spray to hide it, which caused a crimp to form in the chocolate. He decided to smooth out the crimp by melting it; when the heat from his hands didn’t work, he took a blow torch to it. Unfortunately, lacquer spray is mostly alcohol.
“The model’s like, ‘What’s going on back there?'” McCarty said. He can laugh about it now, but it seems like the situation was quite stressful at the time.
Still, both chefs said the creative freedom keeps them coming back year after year. They’ve both designed some pretty nifty dresses; McCarty was most proud of his flapper outfit, inspired by The Great Gatsby (each year has a literary theme). The dress was constructed of more than 1,000 chocolate beads.
The models are a little bit harder to come by; both chefs were recruiting for this year’s event. Definitely volunteer if you’re interested!
Guests were treated to charcuterie and cheese from Del Campo and Taco Bamba, and wine from Boxwood; they also got the chance to try on one of Figerella’s beautiful candy bracelets. He said that once a model even kept the jewelry because she wanted to wear it out after the event.
“You’re going to be a sticky mess by the end of the night!'” he told her.
Proceeds from Charity in Chocolate go towards helping The Heart of America Foundation distribute books to DC’s low-income children. This year’s fashion show is September 6 at the Mandarin Oriental; buy tickets soon, as they go quickly!