It's unusual to see a magazine editor pulling a box of McDonald's French fries from her Chanel handbag at haute couture fashion week. But that was the unlikely occurrence in Paris last week – or so it seemed.
The reality was decidedly calorie-free. Made of thick, spongey, bright red and yellow plastic, the season's most prolific accessory among the style set is an iPhone case in the shape of a McDonald's carton, by Italian fashion house Moschino.
True to the spirit of fast food, counterfeit versions have appeared at lightning speed in markets and online. Obesity campaigners, however, have not been so quick to embrace the craze. Some members of the medical establishment question the wisdom of celebrating fast food at a time when one in four Britons is classed as obese and there are plans to lower the threshold for NHS weight-loss surgery for people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes to a BMI of 30, which could see an additional 800,000 people referred.
Obesity expert and GP Dr Ian Campbell said: "My problem is that if kids are [using these iPhone cases] they are buying in to the whole fast-food concept. And while the occasional McDonald's meal is not a problem, to present it as fashion is disappointing. Is it glorifying McDonald's? I guess it is. Is it a good form of advertising for them? I guess it is."
These criticisms are unlikely to harm the popularity of the designs, which were revealed as part of designer Jeremy Scott's first catwalk show for Moschino in late February; model Lindsey Wixson held one on the catwalk, while fashion editor Anna Dello Russo used hers to take selfies with Katy Perry. In the months that followed, the cases became ever more popular with fashion editors, bloggers and celebrities. Rihanna and Rita Ora were photographed with theirs; Miley Cyrus brandished one on stage.
The problem for fashion brands is that designer iPhone cases are easy to copy, according to Jason Rawkins, head of fashion and luxury brands at solicitors Taylor Wessing. The Moschino case costs around £45; fakes are being sold for as little as £3.
"Social media means that news travels faster and things become popular much more quickly," said Rawkins. "So if the counterfeiters don't move really fast themselves they could miss the boat; two months later the bubble might burst."
Increasingly designers are fighting this by speeding up their own operations, releasing next season's collections straight after the catwalk show. Sure enough, the Moschino iPhone cases were available from midnight on the day of the fashion show. In the UK, the first vendor was Browns, where the entire iPhone's stock sold within half a day.
The social media buzz around that show was unprecedented; the brightly coloured clothes, using familiar motifs – from Happy Meal handbags to dresses inspired by sweet wrappers – seemed specifically designed to be irresistible on Instagram. And once the images had been disseminated widely, controversy created publicity that money can't buy. Columnists decried the hypocrisy of the fashion industry celebrating fast food; others ran quotes from restaurant workers comparing their paltry wages to the prices of the collection.
There was much debate, too, about whether Moschino was infringing on the McDonald's copyright, but a McDonald's spokesperson said: "We've signed a licence agreement with Moschino that allows them to use McDonald's intellectual property on the merchandise. Moschino will make a donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities."
Certainly, the collection seems unlikely to do the golden arches any damage. For the customers who buy into the Moschino aesthetic, the iPhone case is an expression of absurdity and fun. Scott has often spoken about Moschino as a brand centred on irony and irreverence, and has spelt out his desire to bring Moschino to a younger audience.
The iPhone cases also tie into a wider "logo mania mood we have seen on a number of catwalks that references 90s nostalgia", according to Natalie Kingham, buying director at matchesfashion.com. Though Moschino was at the forefront of the first wave of logo mania in the 1990s, this time around it is deployed with more complex and knowing layers. Scott's first Moschino menswear collection, for example, saw the designer creating "knock-offs" of fellow luxury brands, from Louis Vuitton to Hermès – an idea that suggests he would be unfazed by the Camden Market copies of his brand's iPhone cases.
In any case, Moschino seems to have alighted on the recipe for quickfire success in the social media age: immediately arresting design, speedy production, social media dominance and a side order of controversy.
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