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Chocolate Fashions Make For A Truly Sweet Little Black Dress

If you find yourself sauntering down the runway wearing 40 pounds of chocolate, don't sweat it. Seriously — you might find yourself dripping on the audience.

So warns Fiona Bitmead, one of 10 models who showed off edible chocolate creations Friday night at the Salon du Chocolat in London. Five handlers helped her get dressed.

"[I] had to worry about a dress melting on me!" she says. "I can't say I've ever wanted to eat the dresses I've worn down the catwalk before."

But as Tim Gunn might say, make it work!

Salon du Chocolat, not surprisingly, is a French creation. It's the world's largest chocolate fair open to the public, and it has been running for 19 years. This year, it will travel to 23 cities around the world, providing patrons a chance to taste and buy artisan and specialty chocolate. The salon hits New York in November 2014.

Clad in little — and not so little — chocolate dresses, the models at the London event wore gowns, headpieces, bags and even a swimsuit all made of or adorned with white, milk and the dark stuff.

Chocolatiers and designers worked together to create a chocoholic's dream dresses. Lauren Smith, a 23-year-old art school graduate, was hired by Swiss chocolatier Lindt to design its "Eternal Diamond" dress, the creation Bitmead modeled. The A-line dress gets its rich brown color from the 40 pounds of chocolate that cover it; it's adorned simply along the hem with chili and orange segments, flavors used in specialty Lindt chocolate bars. Smith says she had two major worries about the dress.

"One of the main challenges was trying to pick a fabric that could sustain the weight of the chocolate and the embellishments," Smith says. "Luckily, I picked a good, sturdy stiff canvas, which worked well."

Fabric samples were tested at Lindt headquarters in advance to ensure the dress could withstand the heavy chocolate coating. Smith and the Lindt team constructed the piece de resistance by hand in just two weeks.

"The thing that I was really worried about was sewing through chocolate and fabric, and that actually came out really well. It was a bit hard, but I was able to stitch it," Smith tells The Salt.

Food artist Paul Wayne Gregory was involved with the construction of the dress, which took 24 hours to hand-paint with chocolate. Gregory says the process wasn't without its meltdowns, as it were.

"Tempering helps," he says, "but there was a lot of melting, breaking and rebuilding."

And how on earth did they transport it? Gregory says, "We had two women holding it in the back of a van."

Mark Tilling, master chocolatier at Squires Kitchen, a British pastry shop and baking school, used 10 pounds of chocolate squares to create an Audrey Hepburn-inspired dress and matching round handbag. Tilling says the hardest part was finding something suitable to serve as the template.

"It took all day just to find the right dress," Tilling says. " It's got to be easy to get into, so we needed a long zip in the back."

Tilling started with the dress: Using it as a base, he warmed chocolate to act as glue for the squared panels that adorn the frock.

Thankfully, designers won't have to re-create their perishable dresses. Each fashion show will feature the work of local designers and chocolatiers.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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