What Makes a Designer Doughnut? Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld and Kim Kardashian Can Help

Friday being National Doughnut Day, one has to wonder, “What constitutes a designer doughnut?”

What is unquestionably one of the most affordable and easy-to-find indulgences has been celebrated annually since 1938. Dunkers, sinkers, crullers — however you define them — doughnuts ring up $3.6 billion worth annually in the U.S. While many may associate doughnut shops as the preferred haunt of some police officers, NDD was created by the Salvation Army to salute the women who had been dubbed “doughnut lassies” and were stationed in field bases near the front lines to serve doughnuts and coffee to soldiers during World War I in 1917. Some credit the doughnut lassies for helping to have popularized the doughnut in the U.S. after the troops (who were commonly known as “doughboys”) returned from fighting in Europe.

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More recently, the carpe-diem, post-pandemic sensibility has given rise to numerous artisanal and high-end bakeries as Instagram-worthy destinations — despite snaking lines that could rival streetwear drops. Elevated with unexpected flavors and flair, many of these splurges can be had for $5 to $10 apiece. Ten years after Dominique Ansel unveiled his “cronut,” a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, dozens of other chefs have joined the fray with their hybrid creations.

The high-low appeal of doughnuts is not new, though. In 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner served Champagne and doughnuts as refreshments after the Boston Symphony performed at the black tie unveiling of her Italian palazzo art museum. That combination prompted one guest — Edith Wharton — to compare the choice to being fit for a provincial train station in France. (Upon departure, Gardner, who unbeknownst to Wharton spoke French and had heard the slight, offered a sign of thanks before telling Wharton she needn’t expect another invitation to eat in this railroad station.)

In honor of NND, WWD asked fashion designers to dream up their interpretations of designer doughnuts. The ever-hospitable Lela Rose made the assignment next-level – retooling a Dough doughnut with accents inspired by her 2024 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”-inspired resort collection. The glittery sweet is reminiscent of trims and appliqués from the yet-to-be-revealed line. True to form, Rose’s doughnut also has hints of pearls and gold-coated brassy rose motifs (albeit ingestible ones), as well as a wink at her namesake label with delicate gold initials.

Lela Rose
Lela Rose’s initials can be seen on her designer doughnut.

Fellow fashion designer Josie Natori drew from the power of the dragon for her doughnut design.

Josie Natori imagined a dragon-accented doughnut.

And Peter Som, whose design skills span from fashion to lifestyle and culinary with “The Extra Taste” component of his signature site, understands the bridge between the two. He said, “They say you eat with your eyes, which is the same as how one spots a piece of clothing that makes you look twice. So, it has to be pleasing to the eye.”

Som, who was minted as a Food52 Resident on Thursday, made a doughnut with a raspberry glaze, a shimmer of rose luster dust along with a dash of dehydrated strawberry powder that was finessed with the flourish of edible gold leaf. “Personally, I do think a dress would be fabulous in these exact colors!” the designer said.

Peter Som
Doughnuts, like fashion, catch a person’s attention, according to designer Peter Som.

Meanwhile, Nicole Miller envisioned a gilded gold-framed painting of Pop Art-colored doughnuts. And Fe Noel founder Felisha Noel relied on her Grenadian heritage and the familiar flavors and colors of the Caribbean to dream up a passion fruit-flavored and pale-pink guava-filled doughnut.

Nicole Miller imagined "Precious Donuts."
Nicole Miller imagined “Precious Donuts.”

The finished product wasn’t just for NDD but also for Caribbean Heritage Month. Noel will soon be marking the monthlong occasion in another way with this weekend’s opening of the first Fe Noel boutique in Brooklyn’s “Little Caribbean” neighborhood.

Fe Noel
Fe Noel was inspired by the Caribbean.

For good sportsmanship, a few doughnut specialists like Dunkin’, a 13,200-unit operation in 40 countries, and the more refined six-store Dough weighed in — and delivered imaginative choices. Dunkin’ whipped up a Chanel-inspired one, reshaping its fan-favorite strawberry frosted doughnut with sprinkles into the luxury brand’s iconic logo, albeit with signs of a different kind of taste. Dunkin’s chief marketing officer Jill McVicar Nelson said,  “It turns out doughnuts and Chanel are a perfect match. With a bite taken on both sides, it’s giving haute cuisine.”

Dunkin’ diehards won’t find any Chanel-type doughnuts on Friday, but they can receive a free classic doughnut with any beverage purchase.

The just-opened Dodo Bird Donuts’ executive chef Mark Welker also drew from a European luxury house for his creation.

The alum of the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park borrowed from this summer’s metallic handbag trend, in particular Prada’s $2,100 embellished satin and leather mini pouch. His upside-down triangular doughnut is infused with honey and turmeric, glazed with a golden dust and topped with gold crystal. He explained, “Knowing Women’s Wear Daily’s curation of edgy female-focused high-end fashion coverage, I wanted to bridge the gap between food and fashion and pick a brand whose aesthetic matches the innovation that we strive for at Dodo Bird Donuts, one that sources local high-end ingredients, yet carries a curation of a refined chic vibe.”

Welker said he “loves” the similarities between doughnuts and fashion, namely ”the concept of indulgence, satisfaction, and the freedom of expression through art.” For him, “the joy of making doughnuts stems from the pleasure of allowing people to lose themselves in the moment — from the minute they walk in and see the display case, choose their doughnut, then enjoy devouring.”

Dodo Bird Donuts started with a $2,100 <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Prada;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Prada</a> metallic handbag to hatch its idea.
Dodo Bird Donuts started with a $2,100 Prada metallic handbag to hatch its idea.

For NDD, Dodo Bird Donuts will dole out free doughnuts in its highly designed San Diego outpost to anyone who has served or currently serves in public service. There should be plenty of takers, given the area’s strong military presence, such as the nearby U.S. Navy SEAL training base in Coronado and the USS Midway aircraft carrier at the port. Made-to-order cake doughnuts will also be offered for the annual holiday.

Dough was inspired by Karl Lagerfeld for its designer doughnut.

Having worked in fashion for 20-plus years before starting Dough, Steve Klein is adept at collaborating. Dough has done projects for Vera Wang, Sarah Jessica Parker, Connor McGregor, Alexander Wang, NBA star Kevin Durant, Nike and Puma among others.

“Every business starts with the same basis — can you make money? Can you do it?” he said. “What is fashion? It’s a design, a look, and you promote it in some way. I’m taking fashion and putting some of that into doughnuts — the look, the quality. No one had ever done that, because everybody in the doughnut business was a baker [before]. But social media allows you to design and then show that. We’ve done special doughnuts for high-tech and public companies like Twitter. We’ll spend more money and time to make it designer, using the highest level of ingredients like buying strawberry jam from Paris. It’s the same thing that a designer does, buying fabric from Paris or Italy to design at a different level,” Klein said.

The Dough team needed less than three hours to whip up their designer version — a Karl Lagerfeld-inspired black-and-white doughnut complete with a sleek necktie. The concept was inspired by Lagerfeld’s preferred palette and styles, the theme of this year’s Met Gala and the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, according to Klein.

The Doughnuttery went with the vanilla glaze with rainbow sprinkles, which their “favorite fashion icon Kim Kardashian orders regularly, when she’s in town,” according to founder Evan Feldman. Started in Chelsea Market in 2012, The Doughnuttery has five locations, a catering and events company, and franchising including its first international one that will bow in Santiago, Chile, next month.

The Doughnuttery’s founder said this is Kim Kardashian’s preferred doughnut.

Fan-Fan Doughnuts’ owner and baker Fany Gerson said, “Doughnuts make people happy and they are the ultimate comfort food.”

Fan-Fan Doughnuts
Fan-Fan Doughnuts founder believes doughnuts are like fashion.

Gerson added, “But if you put in a lot of love, passion and use it as a canvas to tell a story, then you create a whole new experience.”

Donut Project
The Doughnut Project’s rosé-infused collaborative doughnut.

The Doughnut Project’s cofounder Leslie Polizzotto, whose fashion collaborations include a pending Father’s Day one with Rag & Bone, said the designer treatment requires top-shelf taste and appearance. She singled out the company’s collaboration with Rumor Rosé for National Rosé Day. Rosé was used in the filling and the glaze. “We wanted to invoke the fun and excitement of drinking rosé with friends while looking elegant and fabulous,” Polizzotto said.

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