“For the purposes of processing guests, it's best to have a physical invite,” says the PR turned brand consultant and head of Mandi’s Basement, Mandi Lennard.
She’s right of course – as anyone who’s attempted to gain a PR’s attention minutes before the curtain is lifted will concur – but their relevance remains something to be flagged, given both the impact to the environment and today’s digital landscape.
As writer and consultant Dal Chodha notes, “Physical invites are important but only if they are done well. I’m no eco warrior but it has to be worth cutting a fucking tree down.”
Such an approach is perhaps just one of the reasons why designers now produce cassette tapes, beach balls and festival wristbands, (House of Holland, Shaun Samson and Ashish, respectively) as a substitute to the traditional piece of card; people need a reason to get excited ahead of seeing the clothes, and increasingly, something to share on social channels.
While first and foremost their production is for industry use, the social side of an invitation acts much like the rest of the show, as a further platform for both the designer and press to engage fans, hence the Pinterest boards and Instagram shots.
“There is nothing like the thud of a thick piece of card coming through your letterbox, or holding a beautiful piece of paper in your hands,” says Chodha. “That elevates the experience before you have even arrived at a show. E-vites cannot replicate this, although now people feel the need to Instagram piles of fashion week invitations every season, which I find totally banal and hideous.”
Mandi’s take on it differs however, as she expresses the positives this can bring. “It adds layers and excitement, from editors posting invites on Instagram, to discussing them on Twitter, to knowing whether a show is running late. It adds a great dimension to the whole impression of a show when a designer has collaborated with an artist on their show invite – that goes into the mix and is as relevant and valid as the show music and casting.”
There is a personal element present too. While fashion month is long gone (for now), there will be inevitably be those – editors with an enthusiasm for print, students who interned or got lucky – whose office desk or bedroom wall now bears the fruits of their labour.
Akin almost to fandom, the archiving of invites is in a similar vein to the music fans whose wrists remain full of festival trinkets well beyond the ‘sell by date’ of the wristband’s fabric. Or the ones who still have that box under the bed of tickets from their adolescence, pinprick in the corner where they once clung to a corkboard.
Says Dal, “Fundamentally, fashion is about tactility and so far, the Internet hasn’t been able to replicate, represent or replace our sense of touch. Most people in this industry (and the sorts of people attending fashion shows) would always strive for a physical object rather than a two-dimensional one.”
One such person is the journalist Charlie Porter, who took part in the ICA off-site exhibition, ‘A Journey Through London Subculture: 1980s to Now’ last September, exhibiting a range of archived invitations.
At the time he wrote on his blog: “I’ve used the vitrine to study the subversive act of the fashion show invite. How radical London designers, those who have come from subcultures, can use the fashion show invite as a way to infiltrate and confront the mainstream.”
“If I see a designer from a certain background do something with an invite that I think has no relevance to his or hers work at all,” he told, “I think ‘What does that really have got to do with you?’ The invites are part of my research; they’re just very personal to me.”
This sense of affection for the practice isn’t true of everyone however, as Lennard points out: “At one of the London shows, Susie Bubble was surprised I'd bothered to print out an e-vite and said she just shows it on her mobile phone. It's just a different era, young editors will readily embrace digital invites; we're just used to the old skool.”
It’s inevitable she suggests, that digital will one day be the norm, and Chodha agrees. “I think that iPad wielding PR assistants aren’t going away any time soon. I admire the promise of efficiency that technology gives us, but I think you’d agree that it doesn’t always seem to work out that way,” he says. “An invitation however, serves as the ‘front page’ headline of the season. It is something that comments on its time, hopefully without even realising it.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield