This is an edition of the newsletter Show Notes, in which Samuel Hine reports from the front row of fashion month in Europe. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
Later tonight, several dozen editors, writers, stylists, and VIPs are gonna engage in a fashion week tradition that takes place every season as the shows draw to a close. They’ll get back to their hotels, start packing their Rimowa trunks, and face the same question: What the hell do I do with all these fashion show invites?
Many runway invitations are simple, a piece of heavy cardstock printed with venue details and your calligraphed name and seat assignment. But the trend is heading toward increasingly elaborate collectibles. Here’s a sampling of what’s strewn around my hotel room as I write this. A sturdy metal Dior invite about the size and shape of a license plate. Another thick metal plate from Loewe, with an etching on the back of the artist Lynda Benglis, whose towering sculptural fountains loomed over the runway. (“I’ve always wanted to work with her,” said Jonathan Anderson after Saturday’s show.) A Cornish teapot from his JW Anderson show, which I brought with me from Milan, along with a 3D printed headband from Prada, which often sends guests mementos that tie into the collection. A T-shirt from Marine Serre and a silk eye mask from Wooyoungmi. And then there’s the Louis Vuitton invite, which is the size of an open coffee table book, and includes a piece of resin stained glass depicting the Pont Neuf, an LV-branded pen, and a bunch of postcards marked “Not for sale.” (Perhaps unsurprisingly, guests end up selling a lot of these things.)
“Invites are getting more and more unique,” confirmed i-D’s Olivia Singer as we waited for Loewe to start. “They’re part of a different messaging around shows.” Singer told me that when she began going to fashion week eight years ago, most were fairly standard. But in the years since, her apartment has become filled up with ephemera, like one of 1,200 LV-branded wall clocks that guests received before Virgil Abloh’s January 2020 show. One of many impressive invites from the Abloh era, it’s a meditation on time, ticking backwards. “That sort of thoughtful thing is so cool, when they do it right,” she said.
There’s a long history of fashion brands going big to land RSVPs. In 1996, in a nod to increased security following terrorist attacks in France the year prior, Hermès sent guests clear vinyl Kelly bags. Maison Margiela is known for creative invites; over the years, guests have received tea bags, ceramic plates, egg cartons, and a flashlight that projected the show details. The pandemic forced just about every brand to think outside the envelope. As fashion weeks went digital, the invites became a key part of the experience. Loewe sent editors a “show in a box,” an assemblage of the looks and themes of the collection constructed out of paper crafts. Foodstuffs that editors could snack on while watching video presentations was a popular theme: Fendi sent guests monogram pasta, Gucci delivered baskets of fresh produce, and Prada imported treats from Milan’s Marchesi bakery.
Since the return to live experiences, the invite arms race has only heated up. “Everything we do now has to convert back to social, so people need to give you something cool in the hopes that you’re going to post it,” said seasoned fashion publicist Gabby Katz. “When influencers post show-invite unboxing videos, it’s another hit for the brand.”