Still, for Buti, the food fight was far from over: In December 2000, US prosecutors brought forth a 51-count indictment against him that included charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and wire fraud. (In 2021, he was granted a full pardon by President Trump. “Mr. Buti is an Italian citizen and a respected businessman,” read the official decree. “He is the Chief Operating Officer of a large Italian company and has started a successful charitable initiative to raise funds for UNICEF. More than 20 years ago, Mr. Buti was charged with financial fraud involving a chain of restaurants. He has not, however, been convicted in the United States.”)
It would be easy to blame Buti alone for Fashion Cafe’s failure. However, amid a decade of themed, Disney World–esque dining experiences—this was the era when Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, and Mars 2112 all existed—the public had grown weary of a gimmick. In 1999, Planet Hollywood declared bankruptcy. Mars 2112 did so three years later. From the moment Fashion Cafe opened, it was already going out of style.
“It was just such a specific era in New York restaurant history,” Kyle Hotchkiss Carone, the restaurateur behind au currant hotspots American Bar and St. Theo’s, tells Vogue. “Now, people have graduated into experiential things like the Van Gogh experience or the Museum of Ice Cream, or whatever. But before anyone had really done that, it was like, let’s throw a bunch of shit into a restaurant. It doesn’t have anything to do with food or drink or anything—that’ll hook people and make them come! And for a while, it did.”
Fashion Cafe’s abbreviated existence, combined with the tender age of its target audience (think: devoted readers of Seventeen magazine), means that the restaurant’s hasn’t quite lived on in the collective memory. (Those who do remember it, though, have mixed feelings: “I remember getting sparkly Wet n Wild makeup done and walking down the runway,” says Bumble Chief Brand Officer Selby Drummond, who celebrated her 10th birthday there. “I’m sure I had fun, but it was very beauty pageant.”)
What has aged well, however, is its merchandise. Rare vintage dealer Olivia Haroutounian says the Linda Meltzer-designer baby tees are huge on Depop: “They are so well-cut and flattering because Linda did them. On top of that, there’s this fascinating history with these supermodels who have been photographed in the merchandise—now there’s the appeal of, Oh, I want to wear something that this supermodel did in the ’90s because that time is gone.” When she did a pop-up at James Veloria, she says, a Fashion Cafe T-shirt she sourced was the first thing purchased.