Why You’re Seeing Brass at Every Trendy Restaurant
Everyone remembers the cerulean moment in The Devil Wears Prada. That mesmerizing monologue by fashion editor-in-chief and resident soul crusher Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) where she lays out the lineage of cerulean in fashion, starting from the 2002 Oscar de la Renta collection of gowns to the lumpy blue sweater her unsuspecting assistant is wearing. It reminds you that a trend isn’t just a trend because you see it three times and write about it. Rather, trends reflect the constantly churning gears of a changing industry. It becomes a reflection of what we desire—even what we long for.
And that’s what British designer Tom Dixon makes of the current trend of brass popping up in restaurants across the country. “Brass is one of warmest and most attractive of metallic and has a luxury connotation,” says Dixon. “Colder chrome and more practical stainless steel used to dominate restaurants, but with the rise of nostalgia in food, brass refers to a more comfortable, more bourgeois time.”
As you’re seeing more chefs revive foods of their childhood, like chef John Fraser’s chicken nugget-inspired fried chicken sandwich at The Loyal in New York City, the same ethos makes its way into the design. There’s a return to familiarity—with a twist—at bars like Himitsu in Atlanta, which Dixon worked on, and The Dorsey in Las Vegas from Attaboy vet Sam Ross and NYC nightlife expert David Rabin; restaurants like French bistro-esque Le Politique in Austin; and bakeries brimming with doughnuts, cookies and more like Mah-Ze-Dahr in New York City. At each of these places, brass is used to marry nostalgic food with aesthetic.
“The beauty of brass is that it is both luxe and industrial,” says baker Umber Ahmad of Mah-Ze-Dahr. She weaves the metal into the design, from umbrella baskets to mirror frames to pastry cases. “It’s the kind of metal that exudes warmth and strength, and begs to be touched," she says. "That is a hallmark of great design: the desire to become a part of it in some visceral way.”
That same quality drew Dixon to brass when he was designing a shop for Vivienne Westwood many years ago. He made brass castings for the trim and throughout the interior. “I used brazing rods when I welded, so you could see the brass through the seams,” he says. “The color was revealed rather than hidden.”
Since then, he’s become celebrated for the metals he features in his design for Tom Dixon. First, he got into rusty steel, then black iron, later on copper and now he's currently infatuated with aluminum. But he’ll always have a soft spot for brass—and restaurants, too—for its versatility. “It’s very malleable and patinas easily, so you can get a wide variety of colors with it,” he says.
When he’s not working on an upcoming collaboration with IKEA and other top-secret projects, he’s musing about the next trend we’ll start seeing in restaurants. “At the moment, the big trend is pink and postmodernism,” he says. “I figure the next trend may swing back to glossy black and stainless steel, a more futuristic, space-age aesthetic.”
"But trends are cyclical,” Dixon says. So you might as well still stock up on brass statement pieces for your home for the current (and future) brass boom.