That veneer of silliness doesn’t mean, however, that these bakers shouldn’t be taken seriously. Though the cakes may seem at first glance like joyous follies, ready to topple under the weight of their own Rainbow Brite frosting, the women behind them say they’re rallying against nostalgia and perfection in part because there’s no use looking back, because things are neither clean nor ideal as a pandemic rages on and fires or floods overtake America’s coasts. We must still take sweetness where we can get it, of course, even if these cakes also provide a way of expressing rage at — and taking respite from — the uncertainty and disappointments of the modern world. And because these bakeries are all side jobs, they provide their owners a much-needed sense of control: “I’m not beholden to someone being like, ‘I want a cake that looks like Cookie Monster,’” says Mandel, “because I get to curate what I make.”
Ultimately, though, a cake’s appeal rests in its ephemerality — that moment before it’s cut into and forever destroyed — particularly at a time when young artists in all mediums are reckoning with human consumption and the material waste their work may produce. “We’re still finding pottery from whatever B.C.,” Gelles says, discussing the crumply vases she also produces. “Am I just making more incredibly permanent trash?” Yet with her cakes — which she describes as “grotesque” — there’s no concern that they might outlast their maker or buyer, which is partly the idea. “It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day,” Belo says. “It’s going to be eaten, and it’s going to be good.”
At top: Kwaidan Editions jacket, $570, dress, $1,380, tights, $570, and shoes, $880, ssense.com. Supriya Lele skirt, about $494, and socks, price on request, supriyalele.com. Tableaux Vivants knickers, $125, tableauxvivantslatex.com. Kwaidan Editions shoes, $765. Kwaidan Editions coat, $3,610, skirt, $850, tights, $570, and shoes, $880. Tableaux Vivants gloves, $175.
Director of photography: Matthew Schroeder. Model: Valéry Lessard at Parts Models. Tailor: Lars Nord. Digital tech: Hans Eric Olson. Photo assistant: Matthew Labarbiera. Fashion assistant: Zhane Santisteban. Prop stylist’s assistant: Kayleigh Snowden