Viennetta, the Official Dessert of Mass-Market Faux Luxury, Is Back
Was Viennetta fancy, or was it just ruffly?
Something called Viennetta is apparently returning to a freezer section near you after years off the market, and this seems to be a big deal among a certain brand of ’90s nostalgics. It’s a point of personal pride that I am too young to remember Viennetta, and have only just learned of it today thanks to the news of its apparently momentous return, but from what I’ve gathered, it appears to be an extremely ruffly ice cream cake. It would also seem that in its heyday, this gaudy dessert was considered quite fancy in certain circles, despite once being available for purchase at chain restaurants like KFC and Pizza Hut.
What this tells me is that Viennetta, which Eater hails as “the fanciest dessert of the ’90s,” falls into the category of faux-luxury products marketed as high-end to the proletarian masses. It’s a low-brow idea of something high-brow, like cruises, Red Lobster and the gaudy, boudoir-inspired interior of a Victoria’s Secret.
We, clueless bumpkins of the proletariat, were expected to assume Viennetta was fancy because the commercials told us so. In this TV ad from 1995, jazzy elevator music plays in the background as Viennetta’s mountain of ruffles is sliced with a silver cake knife and served in crystal champagne coupe glasses. It rests upon a silver tray on a white tablecloth, and the hands of its disembodied diners all sport suit jacket sleeves or nice manicures. This is elegance as imagined by someone who vacations in Disney World and books Olive Garden’s best table for special occasions. The name “Viennetta” sounds vaguely European, and, again, just look at those ruffles. Surely this is the height of luxury.
As it happens, however, Viennetta was not — as a generation of ’90s kids who grew up mesmerized by the extravagance of ruffles are just now realizing — an elegant delicacy imported from whatever foreign country you assumed was the fanciest. Rather, it was just an ice cream cake you could reportedly buy for around three dollars at your local grocery store — and soon, if you can stomach the disillusionment, you’ll be able to again.
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