Over a long career as an editor at Blitz, Harpers & Queen, and British Elle, among other publications, Iain R. Webb amassed a trove of unusual fashion-show invites, which took the form of everything from a mask of Isaac Mizrahi’s face to a Valentino audio cassette. The collection was the basis for his recent book, Invitation Strictly Personal. One of the most memorable items in his collection is the antique key that served as an invitation to John Galliano’s fall 1994 show at São Schlumberger’s residence. Webb, now a professor at the Royal College of Art and a lecturer at Central Saint Martins, spoke to the Cut about the significance of the invite and the experience of attending the show.
“John always wanted to take the whole idea of his collection all the way through, from the moment you got the invitation to being at the show. It was this sort of total narrative to his collection. When you take this out of the envelope, it’s this old rusty key with a luggage label tied onto it with a bit of old string. It was written really beautifully, as though done by an old-fashioned quill or something like that. It made it very, very personal.
“I remember going through courtyards, and then through the gates. And you had this key in your hand, the coveted key. There was quite a buzz already because John, at that time, had been experiencing money problems and all these kinds of things, and nobody knew whether it was really happening or wasn’t happening. There were fewer people [invited] than normal because it was in the location that it was. It wasn’t in the giant tents with a thousand people, so it felt like a very unique event.
“Designers are always looking for something that will intrigue people and entice them to go to the shows. To me, [the invite] is very John in the fact that it has that historical quality, that antiqueness. It’s a rusty old key, it’s not a regular key. The shape of it is very old-fashioned. And the sort of luggage label, brown cardboard that’s a bit battered already, and a bit of old string.
“Everyone was intrigued about what would happen. I think we thought it was something special, but didn’t really have any idea. The intimacy of that show is what made it incredibly special. The fact that you were in lots of little rooms throughout this house; in some rooms there were ten or 15 people, maybe 20 in another. You were knee-to-knee with each other. The chairs were all [found at] different markets. In the middle of the room might have been a chaise lounge. The models walked, floated almost, from room to room. Sometimes you were waiting for the girl to come into the room, but you could hear people applauding in another room.
“There were lots of people who think it was that lightbulb moment where they suddenly saw him as a major player. It was incredibly focused. It was an exquisite show from start to finish, in terms of everything considered. And the fact that he did it on a shoestring did show that real unique vision about him. To be able to magically create this universe that people wanted to be part of, it was extremely seductive and intoxicating when you were within it, which is a fantastic thing for any designer to have.”