Marchioness > Archive > Volume 1 > The Caffeinated and the Damned
Words by Zofia Zwieglinska / Edited by Jessica Ann Richardson
The Caffeinated and the Damned
Although coffee has been entwined in city life since its inception in the Middle East, it’s become the drink associated with the ambition-starved, sleepless, and those determined to succeed.
Today was the first time I had coffee in what must be a month. Trying to kick the habit of starting work without a mug in hand has been a struggle. With that first swig, it all came rushing back – the sense of clarity, the ‘hyper productivity’ rush of caffeine spreading through my veins. It’s akin to the high you feel with a new clothing purchase, which might explain why fashion and coffee seem made for each other – the ideal companion to the addictive endless scroll. Add the luxurious appeal of café culture and the pervasiveness of the behemoth that is Starbucks in every ‘It-girl’s’ hand, and you have a match made in heaven.
Coffee has a wild history: English coffee houses banned women in the 17th century, with many parents believing cafes to be the places where anarchy festered through the freedom to mix and mingle. From Marie Antoinette infamously dunking her Viennese croissants in coffee over breakfast, to Samuel Pepys, the writer and original flâneur of cafe culture, coffee has earned a certain social currency. The scent of coffee beans wafts through its history, paired with rebellion. Nowadays, fashion is less rebellious, but even more essential than before.
Fashion and food have never been an obvious mix (see the 1995 New York Fashion Café), but the link between fashion and coffee is more obvious. Less calorific. More refined. Velvety, dark, and easy to style as the modern accessory to those both career hungry and driven, like those holed up in glass skyscrapers, flat white in hand as they work on PowerPoints for merger meetings. There is the filter coffee for those who use it to get them through long nights on badly paid creative assignments, churning out ideas. Or it’s the sipping of a double espresso in the gilded café halls of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II during Milan Fashion Week – a fashion statement in its own right, the mark of the Italian fashion crowd: an effortless way of signifying class and taste. That same harbinger of taste came in pop culture with ground artisanal beans and French cafetieres prepared by coffee aficionado bros intent on getting the acidity ‘just right’. Ditto for cold brew bros. Coffee wears many hats, but is always associated with high workloads, ambition, and a tenacity as drumming as the liquid gold running through their veins.
Coffee doesn’t just embody the rich, snobbish or those intent on proving their fashion credentials. Coffee culture ranges from Japanese iced coffee, to Starbucks secret menu extravaganzas that turn coffee into a slushie dessert. Starbucks deserves a study on the pervasiveness of the brand within modern celebrity culture and their eternal success, from being the modern workspace to the (frankly ridiculous) coffee orders that embody the 21st century culture of celebrity and consumerism. The ‘trenti-12 pumps [sugar-free] vanilla-12 pumps [sugar-free] hazelnut-12 pumps [sugar-free] caramel-5 pumps skinny mocha-a splash of soy-coffee-to-the-star-on-the-siren's head-ice-double-blended-ice coffee’ made it a double-dosed, hyper-customised dopamine hit of caffeine and sugar. Britney Spears’s two Frappuccinos defined her paparazzi shots as cult 00’s, the eponymous plastic cups clutched in her hand, much like many other celebs like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for whom the ‘Starbucks run’ became the way to get a curated shot in the tabloids. Britney went one step further, making a fictional ‘Starbeans’ a part of her app to get her fans a virtual caffeine hit. As these celebrities grew from being child stars along the same time as their favourite coffee chain expanded, it’s no wonder that it became a part of their identity, as essential to their persona as their oversized sunglasses and lashings of attitude.
Coffee isn’t just about the style though – it plays to the psychology of fashion and those in it, a way of expunging those jitters and anxiety about collections, runways, and the idea of ‘making it’. While the substance is a great way to feel energised, it also accounts for a lot of the destructive habits that have become synonymous with the industry. Some are defined as the badge of honour: working late, tight deadlines and a hustle culture that dictates workism as the absolute goal 24/7. Writing for The Atlantic in 2019, journalist Derek Thompson defined workism as the promise that work brings fulfillment, direction and purpose. Coffee defers sleep, the ultimate enemy of creativity, and it’s a common belief in the industry that sleeplessness is what leads to the genius ideas that demonstrate true talent. Anna Wintour can’t live without her Venti Starbucks order to reign over the Conde Nast magazine empire as global chief content officer. Designer Tom Ford gets up pretty much just for his coffee: “I get up [at 4:30am] and make myself a gigantic, iced coffee. I then answer emails and work until about 6am. Then I will head upstairs and have a second giant iced coffee and lay in the bathtub. I don’t like warm drinks of any kind. I lay in my bathtub with a bendable straw in my coffee and no lights and only one candle lit. I love that time in the morning when no one else is awake, and I’m alone.” The designer loves his coffee so much, he gets a room with it.
Fashion has a long history with addiction, and coffee is just one of the least harmful of its vices, among substance abuse and alcoholism. During times when heroin chic was a genuine style, coffee was used as an appetite-suppressant, leading to anorexia and bulimia. Those within the industry know that these fateful addictions come and go as quickly as trends, with coke being traded for coffee (or worse, mixed) for the ultimate creative cocktail sampled by an industry driven by caffeine and ambition. This desperation for success at any cost led to the downfall of far too many creators, patrons, and designers, fuelled on everything beating a little bit more intensely as their systems breathed on caffeine.
As the fashion industry tried to rid itself of its negative reputation after 2015, so too did the coffee addictions disappear from the frontlines, replaced with softer drinks that strayed away from the jet-black poison. With green tea, reishi mushroom drinks and kombucha’s flooding social media feeds, fashion reorientated itself around an idea of ‘health’ instead of sickness. From this sudden change in direction, you would think that the industry had become more wholesome overnight. Yet if someone were to break the surface of that perfectly crafted matcha latte, they would see that just slightly out of shot, lay the muddy remnants of a double espresso. Old habits die hard, right...?
Fashion has one clear differentiator from coffee – it functions as an illusion for the aspirational, even if at its core, the overworking, late nights and crazed ambition stay the same as the old guard who keeps the system alive.
Coffee on the other hand is never anything more than just, well... coffee.