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Monday, September 29, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: the Invites

Haidee Findlay-Levin gets lost in the mail...

Arriving in Paris to full sunshine and warmth—this is true pleasure and inspires brief thoughts of learning French and moving to the French capital. But that usually dissipates toward the end of the trip, when the weather has turned and I have more than enough taxi nightmare stories.

There's a ritual I do when I come to Paris for Fashion Week. I scoop up the invites that have arrived at my hotel, assess the size of the pile and start to sort and sift threw it, separating into days. No matter how huge the heap or enthusiasm for getting invites to certain shows, it's always the missing ones that sound alarm bells, regardless of the many emails exchanged with the PR. No, I am neither going to dissect the performance of PR companies nor their ability to get an invite to me in time for the show. I will, however, focus on the positive and say I love to see my name written in beautiful calligraphy. That is, after the initial shock of seeing the word “Madame” preceding it—“Mademoiselle” would be so much kinder. It's the invites themselves that deserve attention. Not just because they give you a secret view of the designer's inspiration, but also as an art in itself.

There are large poster invites, which, although dramatic, are only useful for wallpapering bedrooms. To those of us with a certain invite-to-handbag ratio, these bold statements are a damn nuisance. I have to hand it to Anne Demeulemeester for taking this into consideration this season. Her invite arrived in the smallest of envelopes—already promising—and inside was the tiniest of black notebooks, thumbnail-size, with all the show's information reduced into those tiny pages. This is something I might even preserve for posterity. Save the trees!

There is always much anticipation of Martin Margiela's invite, arriving inevitably in a white envelope of some unusual shape, weight and size. Sometimes it comes as a long white card with a bold section letter stamped on it in bleeding red ink, but never some insulting seat allocation, causing either an immediate sense of recognition or humiliation. In the past, I have received white-painted wishbones and apples from Margiela, which have taken up residence in my whitewashed home. This time, on his 20th anniversary, the invite was a silver backstage pass complete with the numerological Margiela label. One word: cool.

On the other end of the spectrum was Christian Lacroix's very painterly invite. Beautifully printed on a textured petal-colored card, it consisted of a mélange of fluorescent paint blobs and smears overlaid with graphic black hearts and a fish-scale print. I'm getting a strong Japanese feeling in the colors, poppy design and especially the elaborate envelope with peek-a-boo cutouts. Mon cher M. Lacroix, you have piqued my interest already!

Dries Van Noten sent a very slick clear sheet of plexiglass. Should we suspect transparency in his collection or was he determined to give nothing away? Plexiglass invites, however, even when beautifully printed with white script, do add considerable weight to one's bag, as well as considerable guilt about trashing it after the show.

I love seeing the bold Givenchy name printed on the back of their envelope—such perfect, timeless design. It's also a show I have not missed since Riccardo Tisci took the reins. This season the invite design was a collage drawing that seemed to suggest a rodeo, complete with Givenchy spelled out in a cowboy's lasso.

I was eagerly awaiting Sonia Rykiel's 40th anniversary invite, a show followed by a massive party to celebrate this amazing accomplishment. I was surprised to see that on the front of the large invite was a thank you to an endless list of designers, from Alber Albaz to Ralph Lauren. What on earth was she thanking them all for? After all, every designer who's ever contemplated a striped knit should be thanking Sonia! Were they her guests of honor, her hosts for the night? Watch this space.

The only unfortunate thing with this invite—and inevitably with invites from John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and usually Martin Margiela—is an extra little card. No, it's not a special press discount card; it's a map. This usually means the show is on the outskirts of Paris, at the end of the metro line or beyond. This seldom flusters on-staff editors who just slip the little card into the gloved hand of their drivers as they slide into the leather car seat. But to freelancers, it is the ultimate test of dedication to a designer. We anticipate the likelihood of finding neither a taxi to take us there nor one to rescue us from the desolate area.

And finally, there is that sign of contemporary life, the e-vite, sometimes presaged by a save-the-date email, which gives you false hope that you will soon be proudly clutching the real thing alongside your new clutch bag, as the Sartorialist or a flood of bloggers snap your picture. But usually the “real” invite is only an e-vite, an even less seductive virtual piece of information that not only finds its way into your junk folder, but also makes you feel guilty for printing it out as the small print at the bottom asks you to Please Protect the Trees. Abiding by this desire to protect the environment could mean confronting the blank stare of a bouncer, refusing to look at the flashing e-vite on your Blackberry.

There was a time when designers sent gifts and flowers along with their invites, thanking you in advance for attending (perhaps those aforementioned editors are still receiving these grand gestures at The Ritz). There were also those embarrassing blow-up toys and gimmicky invites that scattered glitter or cookie crumbs onto your new outfit when you opened them. Thus, the best invite is a chic and well-designed little card that grants you painless entry. That said, any invite from Balenciaga, real or virtual, I take without criticism or complaint.

—Haidee Findlay-Levin

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