invitation lost in the post? immerse yourself in iain r. webb's fashion show archive

Original Blitz kid, ex-fashion editor of ELLE, The Times and the Evening Standard, and current professor at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins, Iain R. Webb's fashion archive is extensive. As he releases Invitation Strictly Personal, a...

by James Anderson
16 February 2015, 2:35pm

jean paul gaultier autumn/winter 88

Iain R. Webb was a Bowie-obsessive and teenage punk in the 70s who went on to become a well respected Fashion Editor and Director at various publications including Blitz, ELLE, The Times, Harpers & Queen and the Evening Standard. Currently a Professor of Fashion at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins, as well as being an in-demand writer and curator, it's safe to say he has been to more fashion shows than most people have had hot dinners.

With this in mind, Webb's latest book, Invitation Strictly Personal, brings together an unparalleled collection of fashion show invites - mostly from his own archive - to all the big-name and up-and-coming womenswear, menswear and haute couture shows staged in London, Paris, New York and Milan across the past 40 years.

Confirming the significance of the show invitation as an initial 'message' communicated each season from designers to fashion insiders, the book is a riot of colour and history which also features a foreword by the designer Anna Sui and contributions from Webb's front-row bezzies including Colin McDowell, not to mention posters, show notes and promotional material, never previously seen by a wider public. i-D catches up with the affable Mister Webb to find out more about his latest fashion project. 

Moschino spring/summer 97

Can you recall the very first fashion show you ever attended, Iain?
My first fashion show was one I participated in at Salisbury Art College in 1977. I was on the foundation course but spent all my time in the fashion department. I was allowed to show three outfits I designed before the official show. They were made from fluorescent nylon fabric and plastic tubing and the models wore flashers' macs and sunglasses I covered with sequins. The soundtrack was Fascist Dictator by The Cortinas. It was very punky. I loved how you could create a total image and even more, the effect it had on the audience.

Which was the most recent show you saw? And did you save the invitation?
I still enjoy attending college graduation shows to see what the future of fashion might look like. Always plenty of thrills and spills. And yes, sometimes I keep the invites.

Christian Dior by John Galliano Haute Couture autumn/winter 04

Yves Saint Laurent with Catherine Deneuve and Laeticia Casta, Farewell show January 02

Alexander McQueen spring/summer 04

What made you keep your fashion show invitations throughout the decades? Are you naturally a "collector"?
"Collector" is a kind way of putting it. I guess I am the hoarder-next-door. I like the stuff that other people throw away or no longer value. That's what drew me to punk. Regarding archiving... let's just say things are stored under H for Haphazard.

What prompted you to think of turning them into a book?
I had been talking with the fashion editor, Adrian Clark. He also collects invitations and kindly loaned me some for the book, then I was approached by Goodman Books. It is only in hindsight that an accumulation of things start to shape into a collection. Most good ideas are the simple ones. I am most surprised no one has done such a book before.

If you had to choose one particular show, which could be classed as the most exciting of all, which would it be?
It's almost impossible to choose one invitation or show. I have been extremely lucky to experience so many fabulous disparate presentations, from the specialness of the small and intimate - Rifat Ozbek, for example - to the over-the-top extravaganza of Galliano, Mugler, Gaultier, McQueen and Kenzo.

Miu Miu spring/summer 97

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 06

Vivienne Westwood spring/summer 10

By contrast, have you ever found yourself wondering what to have for your dinner, or thinking, "Oh shit, I forgot to pay my gas bill!", as yet another frock swishes down the catwalk?
If invited to a show I attempt to give it my full attention. I find sketching helps me focus. During the New York shows Colin McDowell and I would always find opportunity to take in a Broadway musical. One time we went to the matinee of Gypsy - on exiting the theatre we discovered that the playhouse opposite was staging Taboo, the musical by Boy George, so we tripped across the road and hustled ourselves tickets. Sometimes you need to find inspiration away from the catwalk...

How do you feel about alternative means of showcasing new fashion - for example, installations and fashion films?
I often think they can make a more powerful statement. I find the emphasis or desire to "put on a show" is often counterproductive, especially among younger designers. One of my most vivid show memories comes via designer Rifat Ozbek, the hottest ticket in the 1980s, who showed his collections in his tiny showroom on just three models who changed behind a screen in the corner, music blaring out of a ghetto blaster. He staged four or five shows a day for around twenty guests at a time. It felt intimate, special and unique. Surely the Holy Grail for any designer jostling for attention? I am more excited when designers do their own thing and construct a presentation appropriate to their sensibility. I adored Meadham Kirchhoff's spring/summer 14 menswear presentation cum installation. They created a complete sensorial experience.

Have you ever not been allowed into a show, despite having an invitation?
Of course. The ELLE team were notoriously late. I remember a Jean Paul Gaultier show at Salle Wagram in Paris when we just made it through the doors as the lights were going down. The catwalk was floor level so as we ran along the front row trying to locate our seats - probably long-taken by British fashion students! - with music starting, I suddenly realised that Naomi Campbell was coming up fast behind us... wearing the first look from the show!

Karl Lagerfeld Haute Couture autumn/winter 05

Thierry Mugler Haute Couture autumn/winter 99

John Galliano spring/summer 99

Have you ever exclaimed, "Do you know who I am?!" to an awkward fashion PR person at the entrance to a show?
No, but more importantly I have known when to walk away from a show, when the hype surrounding a designer has reached such a pitch that the PR starts to believe their own press releases. Whatever some deluded fashion folk may think, a fashion show is not going to change your life! It can enhance it, it can inspire, it can infuriate, but it should never be a life or death, unless you really are a fashion victim.

Aside from lecturing, writing and producing books you are undertaking more and more work as a curator of late. Are you enjoying that?
Curation seems to be the word du jour, doesn't it? I guess in all areas of my work I see what I do as simply story telling. Curating, editing, it's all the same thing.

Meadham Kirchhoff spring/summer 12

Invitation Strictly Personal is published by Goodman in mid-February 2015.


Text James Anderson
Invitation images taken from Invitation Strictly Personal by Iain R. Webb published by Goodman, £30
Fashion show photography Iain R. Webb, taken from Postcards from the Edge of the Catwalk

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