Co Co. Sala's chocolatier, Katie Musser, talks with Fashion & Philosophers about her recent chocolate & sugar creation for the annual Charity in Chocolate benefit at DC's Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Proceeds from the charitable runway go to Heart of America Foundation, a nonprofit that provides disadvantaged children in the metropolitan area with books. Katie has been Co Co. Sala's chocolatier for 5 years making this her third year participating in Charity in Chocolate. With reinterpretations of Cruella DeVil and Queen Amidala under her belt from previous shows, Katie chose the character of Titania, queen of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream for this year's sugary runway. Since the theme of this year's show was "A Wonderful World of Books," Katie chose a more magical character because creative elements that would not normally compute on a human character do well on an otherworldly character.
Describe your chocolate couture. Her look is supposed to be very fresh and inspired by nature. I wanted her to have an almost magical feel as she was walking down the runway. Her costume has vines and flowers, leaves, butterflies and a chocolate branch that she uses as her walking stick. I wanted her to have a lot of color on her crown and on her back so she would have that "wow" factor once she turned around. Everything else I wanted to be green, brown and a neutral cream color. She wore little irises and next to her eyes, we placed tiny purple flowers and gemstones. Co Co. Sala's owner, Nisha, loves glitter and gold so we also wanted to include as much as possible to make her regal and queenlike.
Describe the process that went into making the dress. I always sew the dresses each year because it is never easy to find exactly what I have in my head. Her dress was made with backless cream fabric and stripes of light green and cream for the skirt with a gold toile train. After sewing the dress, we fitted Brooke and placed alternating white and dark chocolate spheres, made from a polycarbonate mold. The belt is made up of white chocolate petals made with flexible silicon molds dusted with oyster powder. Four dark chocolate leaves dusted in gold are based at the train of the dress on the gold toile. Vines of sugar veil travel up her leg, around her neck, and then her arm. The sugar veil is a flexible material that we piped on a silpat, sprayed with cocoa butter and attached with eyelash adhesive. The white ribbons attached to her wrist are piped sugar that signify dew drops. These were formed by cooking the sugar, letting cool, and piping on before the sugar hardened. The crown was the most labor intensive. After conferring with the chef of Co Co. Sala, who suggested using a metal bowl as the base of the crown, we made a pastillage (sugar-based dough with a clay consistency) crown. We cut flowers and butterflies out of gum paste and sprayed them with colored cocoa butter before attaching these elements to her crown. I added hand painted detailing and strung the ribbons, flowers and butterflies along the backless part of her dress to add a colorful surprise.
How do you keep the chocolate from melting? Do you put the models in a fridge? We might as well be working in a fridge because of how cold they keep the model room at the Mandarin Oriental. However, we do use felt backing on any of the chocolate flush to the model's skin so it provides more of a neutral buffer. It is inevitable though to have chocolate melt during the wait before and during the runway so it is important to make the chocolate thick. Right now, the dress is sitting in a hotel pan in our storage room waiting to be moved.
How does making chocolate translate into design and fashion? My daily focus is on the production lines to make sure we do not run out of stock. Chef Santosh will make beautiful chocolate showpieces from time to time for guests that request them. When I have made some of these showpieces, this has clicked in my mind as design because it translates more creatively. Your goal is to create something that is visually appealing and different every time. What I do is a trained skill - to make consistent and beautiful chocolates that are delicious. That is why this event is so much fun every year, because it gives me a chance to be more creative and come up with ideas to find a way to translate food with wearable art.
If you could design chocolate couture for any fashion house/designer, who would it be? I think it would be really fun to work with Hermes. The advertising alone is always so much fun, it is always so colorful and beautiful.
What chocolate is melt-in-your-mouth, "I can't get enough" at Co Co. Sala right now? Being that fall is almost upon us, I can't say that I recommend anything more highly than the pumpkin spice bar coming up soon. It is like eating pumpkin pie with a crunchy, hazelnutty layer on the bottom. It should be called crack pie, but that's already taken. Simply decadent!!!
Photo Credits: Erica Baker