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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, John Galliano (detail)

Work / Publication

Fashion meets graphic design in Iain R. Webb’s vast archive of show invites

Fashion show invites might be among the most highly revered of all printed ephemera – they serve a purpose which goes far beyond simply specifying a time and a place for a designer to show a collection. Invites are the key into a hallowed space reserved for those who have been selected, they present the first magical glimpse at what radical new direction a designer might be taking in the new season’s collection, they take every form imaginable – marked pill bottles, origami peacocks, bags, mock credit cards – and they are incredibly collectible. And one man who has taken stock of all these factors is Iain R. Webb. 

The award-winning writer, professor of fashion at the Royal College of Art, associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins and former fashion editor to some of the most exalted titles in media, Iain has built up an astonishingly extensive archive of invitations over the years, and rather than squirrelling them away for his own personal viewing he has generously turned them into a book. A huge, golden, glossy book. Here’s Iain talking about his collection, the curation process and the most exciting shows he has ever seen.

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, John Galliano

What made you decide to make Invitation Strictly Personal?

I had been discussing the idea of a book dedicated to show invites with fashion editor Adrian Clark, a long-time friend who also collects invitations and has kindly loaned me some for the book, when I was approached by Venetia Bartleet from Goodman Books. It is only in recent years that I have realised that all the things I have hung onto during my career start to shape into a valuable collection. I guess I am an inveterate hoarder. I am drawn to the stuff that other people throw away or no longer value.

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Moschino

How did you find the process of putting the book together?

I adore the research process and probably spend longer on this than my editors would like. I originally trawled through different boxes and drawers to locate any appropriate fashion show ephemera. I then collated this, numbering every object and adding a relevant description and information. I am now a wizard of the spreadsheet. My editor and I then brainstormed a structure for the book, and the use of visual themes to link invitations from different periods of time. I was keen for it to look like a coveted catalogue for an auction or exhibition. I made little Biro sketches of possible layouts and gave these to the art director at Carlton. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we had defined the template into which everything could be fitted. 

Then came the editing process, which is never easy. My other editor Lisa Dyer was an enormous help. There were some obvious stand-out invitations and some that I wanted to include but had lost along the way. Many I fear still languish in the art department at ELLE magazine. To fill gaps I approached my front row friends who kindly loaned me their prized invitations. Up until the last moment I discovered odd invites here and there that caused a few headaches for my editors and I have turned up things since that I wish I could have put in the book. Perhaps for volume two?

“I have seen a Valentino show in the Secret Palace in Beijing and an Issey Miyake show on the platform of an underground Metro station in Paris. For someone who loves fashion, how lucky was I to have not only attended the final curtain of Yves Saint Laurent’s career … but also an intimate atelier preview of one of the designer’s collections hosted by the great man himself?”

Iain R. Webb

How do you store your collection?

I am afraid it is not particularly organised. My methodology is decidedly haphazard. I store things in cardboard boxes, plastic drawers and files. I think I might have a photographic memory as I instinctively know where things are, although locating certain items can sometimes prove a tad long-winded. When I am working on a book I am surrounded by lots of lists and piles of things and there is always a moment when I feel like the project will never come together. Invariably it does.

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Valentino

Which is your favourite?

It is difficult to identify one invitation as a favourite. I count myself incredibly lucky during my career to have been invited to so many amazing fashion shows from the theatrical spectacles of John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler and KENZO to the unique showroom presentations of Rifat Ozbek, Geoffrey Beene and Jean Muir. I have seen a Valentino show in the Secret Palace in Beijing and an Issey Miyake show on the platform of an underground Metro station in Paris. For someone who loves fashion, how lucky was I to have not only attended the final curtain of Yves Saint Laurent’s career – the lavish retrospective show at the Pompidou Centre that featured all the designer’s greatest hits worn by a host of supermodels – but also an intimate atelier preview of one of the designer’s collections hosted by the great man himself?

Invitation Strictly Personal: 40 years of fashion Show Invites is available now published by Goodman Books.

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Giles Deacon

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Alexander McQueen

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, John Galliano

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Christopher Kane

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal, Antonio Berardi

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Iain R. Webb: Invitation Strictly Personal