Fashion and indulgence at the Paris Chocolate Show

Edible Wonderbras, the Mona Lisa wearing a kimono and box after box of mouth-watering sweet morsels — the Paris Chocolate Show, set to run from Thursday to Sunday, has something for just about everyone.

The annual trade fair, taking place at the Carrousel du Louvre, brings together some 150 chocolate makers from around the world for tastings, demonstrations, seminars — and serious marketing opportunities. Candies of all shapes and sizes, cookies, liqueurs, spices, hot chocolate concoctions, books, cooking equipment and even a chance to enrol in the French capital’s ”chocolate university” are on offer.

Delegates from cocoa-producing nations like Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Venezuela are to perform traditional dances and music throughout the fair. But a unique fashion show featuring fanciful creations concocted by top designers and master chocolate makers captivated the attention of hundreds of chocoholics crammed into the exhibition space for a sneak preview of the show.

Russian supermodel Inna Zobova, the latest Wonderbra girl, dazzled the crowd in the company’s trademark push-up bra and panties — appropriately chocolate brown. Cacharel brought its technicolour 1960s theme seen on the catwalks earlier this month for next summer to the show, presenting a short-sleeved t-shirt covered in white chocolate medallions and a fringed rainbow-stripe mini-skirt.

Other designers contributing to the event included Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Celine and Daniel Swarovski, who conjured up a hat and large handbag — both encrusted with his signature crystals.

The dresses will be placed on display during the four-day show. Another section of the fair pays tribute to the cultural treasures housed in the Louvre museum, located just above the exhibition hall, with replicas of a handful of famous art works on view.

A bust of Egypt’s boy King Tutankhamen, Auguste Rodin’s sensual sculpture The Kiss and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa had onlookers gaping at the intricacies of the carvings and similarities with the original works.

Ryoichi Nabana, the Tokyo chocolate maker who recreated Leonardo’s enigmatic beauty in hues of brown, cream and mocha, incorporated traditional Japanese motifs into his version of the legendary painting.

”The bird represents happiness, while Mount Fuji is the symbol of all Japan,” he said, noting it had taken him 25 days to construct the 15-kilogramme work, which stands nearly a metre high.

The Mona Lisa is sporting a kimono and smiling more freely in the rendition painstakingly created by Nabana, who has worked in the trade for 16 years.

Organisers have dedicated the event to the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus’ reported first taste of a peppery, bitter, hot chocolate drink while in Nicaragua in 1502. Some say he brought cocoa beans back to Spain and they were ignored. Others say his search for the route to India blinded him to the value of his find. But it is widely acknowledged that mainland Europe knew nothing about chocolate until fellow Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez presented King Charles V with cocoa beans and explained how to prepare the sinfully rich beverage.

The Continent quickly caught on — today, Europeans spend 51,70 euros ($51) on chocolate treats every year.

Nicolas Deckens, representative for the Italian chocolate maker Cuba Venchi, says he hopes they’ll spend even more. ”We’re trying to break into the French market, which is no small task,” said Deckens, noting that 2002 was his third year at the Paris show.

”Tonight is a fun night, but these people are just tourists. They’re not serious chocolate connoisseurs. Tomorrow is when we get down to business.” – Sapa-AFP

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Susan Stumme
Susan Stumme is a senior editor for Agence France-Presse in Washington.

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