Anna, England's seventh Duchess of Bedford, is credited with launching the tradition of afternoon tea in the 1840s, when she asked her butler to serve tea and cakes to keep her sated until supper was served, around 9 p.m. More recently afternoon tea has evolved into an indulgence involving posh clothing, poufy sofas and crustless sandwiches. Now that's changing, as hotels give the custom a thoroughly modern twist.
Shoppers en route to Harrods in London can check out the season's styles as they appear decorated atop cakes and cookies in the Berkley Hotel's "Pret-a-Portea." There's Alexander McQueen's new silver boot atop a gingerbread biscuit and an Yves St. Laurent smoking jacket trimmed with chocolate sable cr?me. Past collections have included Jimmy Choo boot cookies. The teas include a huge number of herbal and fruit varieties (€68; www.theberkeley.co.uk).
At the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, the "Practically Perfect Tea" features Mary Poppins-themed cookies, cakes and tea sets, as well as sing-alongs from Disney's hit Broadway musical (€24 for adults, €14 for kids; waldorf.com).
In Paris, models wearing fashions from Givenchy, Chlo?, Celine and Yves St. Laurent mingle at the Bristol among guests sipping tea and champagne and nibbling cakes decorated to match the couturiers' collections (€30; lebristolparis.com). But no one makes pastries like Christophe Michalak at the Plaza Ath?n?e, where treats include a banana-split macaroon and a pineapple and exotic-fruit sorbet assembled to look like an atomic-age concoction (€13 per pastry; www.plaza-athenee-paris.com). There'll be no room left for supper.