Twenty years ago, fashion and food rarely went together. So many calories!

The first haute couturier to launch haute cuisine was Giorgio Armani, who introduced his first Emporio Armani Caffè & Armani Ristorante in 1998, in Paris. Chanel followed a few years later, opening its Alain Ducasse–helmed Beige restaurant in Tokyo in 2004. While the project is an architectural marvel, perched atop a 10-story Ginza building, its aim was simple—give the clients a lunch break, by all means, but keep them in the store. The same premise made Freds Madison Avenue at Barneys iconic. Now the restaurant has outlived its former tenant.

Such was the initial premise of fashion cafés—they were envisioned as resting areas for shoppers and venues for corporate dinners and meetings. But as social media’s reach grew, and experiential purchases became all the rage, food began to look more appealing.

Giorgio Armani has made tables at his restaurants, such as Armani Ristorante in Paris, as coveted as his sharp-shouldered jackets.

Pains au chocolat, coffees, and lunches at a fashion café became the new buy-in to luxury for those who don’t necessarily shop the collections.

“In the past, the restaurants were developed to keep customers in the store longer and spend more. Now restaurants are a way to attract people in store,” Marc Metrick, C.E.O. of Saks Fifth Avenue, told Vogue Business in March 2020. Saks installed an outpost of Parisian hot spot L’Avenue at its New York City flagship in 2019 and recently reopened it following the pandemic.

Luxurious delicacies at Cova, which was ultimately bought by LVMH for an eye-watering $37.6 million.

Prada’s dispute with LVMH to acquire Cova, a historic Milanese patisserie, is symbolic of the shift. Beginning in 2015, the powerhouses spent two years feuding over the small bakery on Via Monte Napoleone before it eventually fell into LVMH’s hands for a staggering $37.6 million. Rebuffed, Prada went on to acquire Marchesi, a more esoteric bakery up the street.

The time and effort that went into the acquisition stunned many at the time, but Marchesi was a roaring success. Buying a biscuit tin for $46, marked with the Marchesi logo, is seemingly still buying Prada.

After Marchesi, the last seven years have ushered in an era of stylish openings all over the world. Armani went on to open more than 20 Emporio Armani Caffè & Armani Ristorante locations in commercial hubs such as Dubai, New York, London, and Tokyo. In 2015, Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar became a stamping ground for New York’s uptown beau monde.

“In the past, the restaurants were developed to keep customers in the store longer and spend more. Now restaurants are a way to attract people in store.”

As consumers become more knowledgeable, and particular, about food, fashion labels are faced with a trickier task—delivering the same level of quality on the plate as on the rack. A meal at a label-named restaurant must be the experiential equivalent of the clothes.

Style and sustenance at Polo Bar.

In June, Ferrari launched its fashion label, Ferrari Style, alongside the debut of Cavallino, a new restaurant created exclusively for the house by superstar chef Massimo Bottura. The India Mahdavi–designed space features engine parts and logos in prominent positions, and the experience feels akin to stepping into a Ferrari.

Gucci is also pushing particularly hard on its F&B offerings, partnering with that same Bottura to roll out a global collection of osterias. The first outpost opened just three years ago, in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills location, which plunked down on Rodeo Drive last year, was recently awarded its first Michelin star. A new osteria opened in Tokyo last month, and Gucci seems to be constantly eyeing the next location.

Instagram-friendly design at Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, in Florence.

Dior has announced plans to install a buzzy restaurant at its plush, recently redesigned Paris headquarters, on Avenue Montaigne. Peter Marino, the architect and designer behind countless boutiques in the LVMH stable, will handle the design. The food will come from chef Jean Imbert, an Instagram and Top Chef star and frequent collaborator with Pharrell Williams. Imbert has recently taken over the culinary operations at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée to great fanfare.

After the closure of its flagship store in Milan, in 2015, Ralph Lauren is giving it another shot in the Italian style capital. The new concept encompasses an entire palazzo, which the label has dubbed the “World of Ralph Lauren.” And lo and behold, there will be a Polo Bar.

The new Langosteria outpost at Cheval Blanc in Paris.

Meanwhile, Remo Ruffini, the principal investor in Moncler, has acquired a 40 percent stake in the old-school Milanese restaurant Langosteria. The restaurant specializes in upscale dishes anchored in high-quality seafood, but its real draw is its low-lit, sexy ambiance.

In September, Langosteria opened a flagship in the Cheval Blanc, a flashy new hotel in Paris’s former Samaritaine building, which is owned by—wait for it—LVMH. “I am coming back to the concept of experience,” says Pietro Ruffini, the son of the Moncler founder and an adviser to the company. “To attract people in the stores, you need to give them a reason why, and this lies in the opportunity to live an experience, to live the brand and not just to make a purchase. You need to move from pure transaction to the one of building a relationship.”

And nothing does that quite like breaking bread.

Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for Air Mail