While two dozen women took big, synchronized breaths, stretched their arms up and wobbled, one of the sheets covering the street-facing windows occasionally fell. Several of the women scurried over to tape it back up.
This was necessary, after all, since everyone inside, at a dinner earlier this month on the Lower East Side, was naked.
The Füde Dinner Experience is hosted by the artist and model Charlie Ann Max. For $88, and after Ms. Max has approved the applications, guests come together to enjoy, according to the website: “a liberating space that celebrates our most pure selves, through plant-based cooking, art, nudity, & self-love.”
Put another way: It’s a naked vegan dinner party with a bunch of strangers.
Ms. Max started experimenting with naked events in 2020. (She also hosts Füde Breath-work Experiences, breathing with naked strangers; and Füde Clay Experiences, naked sculpting.) The dinners were initially invite-only, but she opened them up to people who had heard about them through Instagram or word of mouth. Every dinner she hosted sold out, she said, and she was soon inundated with inquiries from aspiring nude diners from around the world.
Füde (the umlaut is to help people pronounce it like “food,” not “feud,” and to honor Ms. Max’s German-Jewish heritage) is, perhaps, the au naturel extension of a growing trend.
A new crop of restaurants, groups and Instagram pages has sprung up to offer sociable diners the opportunity to mix and mingle. In New York City alone, there’s Dinner Party, a communal table Brooklyn spot; Dinner With Friends, an Instagram page that organizes dinners “to meet new and old friends!”; and Friend of a Friend Collective, dinner parties for four to eight of its members at a time.
All of those require clothing, however.
The draw of the naked dinner party is different for different people, Ms. Max said. Some want to feel more connected to their own bodies, while others want to make new, similarly uninhibited friends.
At the dinner earlier in March, guests undressed as soon as they arrived. There was no dressing room, just a clothes rack and hangers off to one side. The main dining hall was warmly lit and draped in sheets of cream and champagne-colored silk. Ms. Max said she makes her events look like Renaissance paintings because “it feels very romantic.”
Each of the attendees (ages ranged from early 20s to late 50s) had approached the challenge of dressing for a naked event differently. Some wore a full party look, while others settled on sweatshirts and jeans. After stripping, guests floated around to different groups, introducing themselves and politely chatting about the weather. Almost all of them showed up alone, which Ms. Max said was typical.
Rosalina Villanueva, 41, said she wanted to reconnect with her body, which had changed after she given birth to her first child last year.
Catherine Fraccaroli, 21, had dutifully disrobed but kept her white socks on because it was “comfy.” She hoped the dinner would help her be more socially confident. “I’m definitely sometimes on the shy side, so something like this is really pushing me to open up,” she said.
Stephanie Uribe, 35, said she had just come back from doing cacao, tobacco and temazcal ceremonies in Nicaragua, and wanted to “keep that energy going.”
“I think nudity allows us to connect in a different way,” she said. “To strip away what the patriarchy has put on us. Like, uber-sexuality or hyper-sexuality.”
Füde events are not exclusively for women, but in order for men to attend, they need previous participants to vouch for them. All prospective guests must fill out a form explaining why they’re interested. The form also asks about any dietary restrictions and whether an applicant has been involved in “any incidents that could be considered inappropriate or disrespectful during a nude or semi-nude event.” Ms. Max has to take people’s word on that last bit.
She accepts most applicants, she said, as long as you’re not “some creepy dude that found my Instagram somehow.”
“Basically,” she said. “I’m just looking to see that you’re a safe person, and that your intentions for entering the space are pure.”
‘This must be quite a sight!’
Ms. Max started the Füde Instagram account in 2020 as a way to combine her two great loves: cooking and nudity. But it really started in 2014, when she and her roommates in Brooklyn decided to get naked and hang out in their apartment. She had grown up dancing, and her relationship to her body had been fraught.
“It felt so good to be like, whatever, I’m hanging out with my best friends, in my rawest form with my body, and this is not as scary or weird as I would expect,” Ms. Max said. “It just felt so free.”
Empowered by this, she started experimenting more with nudity: going topless to certain bars, having parties and greeting guests naked. Now, she says, she is naked whenever possible. “This is a lifestyle I live on and offline,” she said. “During events, and after everyone goes home.”
The first naked event she hosted was a paint night in Los Angeles. Ms. Max prepared the food and nudity was optional, which Ms. Max later realized was a mistake. As it turns out, naked parties only work if everyone is doing the same thing — being naked. Guests who hadn’t undressed told her that it was only because they saw that other people had remained clothed.
Füde isn’t profitable yet but Ms. Max hopes it will become a full-time business. Currently, Ms. Max makes her money from modeling and content creation, and splits her time between New York and Los Angeles. She also recently completed a plant-based culinary program at the Institute of Culinary Education in Los Angeles.
Each Füde Experience dinner has a theme, such as “Self-Love” or “Muse/Museum.” When the events are in Los Angeles, Ms. Max cooks and hosts the meals at her loft. When she travels, she prepares the meals wherever she can — in the apartment where she’s staying, or at a friend’s place.
For this last dinner in New York, the theme was “Embracing Your Inner Rhythms: for Individuals to Connect with their Menstrual Cycles.” After an hour of mindful movement and breath work, the women squeezed around a dining table covered in silk, dried flowers and butt-shaped water glasses and discussed their periods.
Ms. Max and her assistant, Maya, served courses of carrot and ginger soup, quinoa-stuffed bell peppers and cacao raspberry avocado mousse. The heat had been cranked up, and women periodically fanned themselves with their menus. Only one attendee was menstruating at the event, which everyone agreed was pretty remarkable.
Guided by Chelsea Leyland, 35 — the founder of the menstrual health company Looni, which had collaborated with Ms. Max on the dinner — women were prompted to share a word that summarized their relationship with their periods. There were tales of embarrassing menarches, disasters in white jeans, period sex and struggles with chronic conditions like endometriosis.
“There’s a lot of nervousness I have when I get my period, because I tend to bleed through my clothes a lot,” one woman said.
Two women discussed finger painting with their menstrual blood, and a few others said they’d like to try that. One woman expressed frustration that her cycle was not synced with the moon.
Halfway through one woman’s musings on the stigma of periods, someone exclaimed, “Oh, a man!” and several women leaped up to rehang the sheet and shoo away the passer-by who had been gazing in.
“This must be quite a sight!” Ms. Leyland said.
When dinner was over, women stayed and talked. Some got dressed, others hung around naked. They exchanged hugs, phone numbers and social media handles. One woman suggested everyone run out into the street naked, but the guests agreed that was probably illegal.