The Evolution of the Fashion Invitation

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Alexander McQueen A/W09
Alexander McQueen A/W09Courtesy of the Somerset House

Iain R. Webb guides us through his memories as a front row habitué with a new exhibition of fashion show ephemera

Who? Receiving a beautiful invitation by post is something that's hard to beat, a fact that fashion houses are only too aware of as each new season approaches and with it the challenge of creating an unique invitation to inspire and pique interest in their forthcoming collection. Certain brands have got this down to a fine art – Dries van Noten always creates something new and exciting (from the transparent cityscape of S/S12 to the moss-filled perspex box for S/S15), while we particularly enjoy M/M Paris' brilliant creations for Givenchy. Not merely the precursor to a show, the invitation can also be viewed as its embodiment – a souvenir to be cherished thereafter. This is a notion pioneered by Iain R. Webb, award-winning fashion writer and visiting lecturer at Central Saint Martin's and the Royal College of Art, whose curated collection of fashion show ephemera is currently on display at Somerset House.

What? Now in its final week and titled Invitation Strictly Personal, the show is a compendium of catwalk show invitations, sent to or gathered by Webb, which cover over 50 years of fashion history, from the early 1960s to the present day. It is a wonderful exploration of the medium's history, while inadvertantly pondering the fashion industry's transformation over the past four decades (all of which is considered in even greater depth in Webb's accompanying book of the same name). Also on display are Webb’s show notes and sketches, which offer a fascinating understanding of his career as a fashion journalist in the pre-digital age, critiquing garments from the front row. 

Why? But perhaps what is most remarkable about Webb's collection is just how much he has salvaged, where others would have thrown away. “Some people are just drawn to collecting,” he told The Independent. “People say, ‘you’re so clever to have kept things’ but I’m more surprised that people don’t, because they are beautiful things. There’s a lot of thought that has gone into them. I couldn’t imagine just binning everything.” And we're very grateful that he didn't, his resulting discoveries allowing us rare insight into the evolution of the invitation as an extension of a designer's vision.

Invitation Strictly Personal is at Somerset House until March 22. The book published by Goodman Books, is available now.