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The Fashion Week Show invite: Why it should be considered obsolete if sustainability is to be taken seriously


 

Fashion Week is infamous for its unsustainable practices. A growing trend in Fashion Weeks worldwide is affirming the culture of unsustainability within the fashion industry. The trend in question is sending invites to fashion shows in the form of physical items. Not only should physical items be considered obsolete as fashion show invites, but there should also be a call to transition to digital invites if sustainability is to be taken seriously.

 

History of Fashion Shows


A brief history of the existence of fashion shows highlights why invites are becoming increasingly unsustainable. It was not until 1860 that Parisian-based designer Charles Worth, the “father of haute couture”, decided to introduce the concept of presenting collections on live models. Fast forward to the dawn of the 20th century and “fashion parades” have become popularised in Europe. This era was pioneered by the likes of British designer Lady Duff-Gordon and Parisian designer Paul Poiret. Similarly, across the pond, American department stores such as the Ehrich Brothers in New York would showcase their inventory to their best customers.

 

Fashion Week is a week of fashion shows held in a particular city to showcase the designers who operate there. “Fashion Week” as we know it was the brainchild of publicist Eleanor Lambert. Lambert was responsible for the inception of what she termed “press week”, but would later be known as Fashion Week, in New York during 1943. Four decades after Lambeth’s contribution to the fashion industry, the ‘big four’ Fashion Weeks have all been established in their respective cities of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Additionally, a multitude of smaller cities from around the world all boast their fashion week.

 

From the shows of Charles Worth all of the way up to the inception of the ‘big four’ Fashion Weeks over a Century later, fashion show invites would either be made out of paper or card. Fashion show invites being made out of paper or cards is already unsustainable, however, this practice would only become even more unsustainable.

 

The 1990s saw a wave of avant-garde designers who would do away with sending paper or card invites to their fashion shows. Martin Margiela was one such avant-garde designer who decided to introduce physical items as a way of inviting individuals to his fashion shows for both his namesake brand and Hermes, for whom he was creative director from 1996. Examples of his fashion show invites include a clear vinyl Kelly bag for his SS’1996 Hermes show in Paris as well as tea bags, egg cartons, and ceramic plates for his namesake brand Maison Margiela.

 

Fast forward to today and replacing paper or card invites with physical items has become a ubiquitous practice by the majority of designers. This has led to some iconic invitations such as John Galliano’s playing cards invitation in FW’09, or Demna Gvasalia’s broken iPhone 6S invitation for the Balenciaga FW’23 show. However iconic some fashion show invites have been, this does not detract from the fact that they are unsustainable. They also act to solidify the culture within the fashion industry that sustainability should take a back seat.

 

The COVID-19 Pandemic


The pandemic presented designers with a unique opportunity to transition their fashion show invites from physical items to digital invites, making their practices much more sustainable. Because fashion shows were restricted to being virtual throughout the pandemic, designers were faced with a choice. Either they could also decide to make their invitations virtual along with the show, or they could ramp up the physical items they sent as invites because the shows were taking place virtually.

 

Alessandro Michele provided a brilliant example of how designers could have changed how they sent out invites in a more sustainable way. For Gucci’s FW’20 show in Milan Fashion Week, Michele sent out invitations via WhatsApp. In the WhatsApp invite, Michele said:

Hi, how are you? All right. I was thinking that if you were in Milan next Wednesday it would be nice if you came here to the Gucci Hub for the fashion show. Let me know. Kisses.” In sending out this invitation, Michelle did not employ any physical materials that could later be discarded. In essence, it was a model of sustainability.

 

Unfortunately, Michele’s contemporaries were unable to take a page out of his book when it came to sending out invites to their respective fashion shows. If anything, fashion show invites became increasingly unsustainable due to designers competing to send the most decadent invites. What could have been a positive turning point for sustainability in the fashion industry only became a catalyst for normalising a culture of unsustainability.

 

The state of the fashion industry


One only has to look at the current state of the fashion industry to see why there is such a lack of regard for sustainability when it comes to sending invitations to fashion shows. Specifically, how the purpose of invites has transcended beyond the original intention of inviting people to show. Now, fashion show invites have metamorphosed into a system of mutual benefit to the designer and the consumer.  

 

Defenders of physical items being produced as fashion show invites will say that they provide an insight into the show, which justifies their unsustainability. In essence, they benefit the consumer as they can gain spoilers about the upcoming fashion show. However, obtaining some potential invites to an upcoming fashion show does not seem to me to be a strong enough justification for such an unsustainable practice. Even if you disagree with this notion, it does not detract from the fact that sending physical items as an invitation is not a way to hint at spoilers about an upcoming fashion show.

 

Similarly, designers defend the unsustainable practice of using physical items as invites to their fashion shows simply because it is good publicity. Fashion publicist Gabby Katz confirms,

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.” Digital invites might not bring the same level of attention to a brand that physical items might, but they would contribute to changing the culture within the fashion industry that sustainability is not a priority.

 

This symbiotic relationship between designer and consumer, whereby attention is promised in exchange for exclusive knowledge about the fashion show represents a disconnect that is currently occurring within the fashion industry. The growing trend of using physical items as fashion show invitations only acts as a distraction for the audience from the clothes themselves. The consequence is that fashion shows are now more about the sets and the invitations than actually showcasing new designs. Designers can still tell the audience a story and garner attention from the designs in their collection, so why not do this in a more sustainable setting? Why not do away with using physical items as invitations to fashion shows?

 

Transitioning to digital invites


An extension of the position that fashion show invites that take the form of physical items should be considered obsolete is that there should then be a transition towards digital invitations. Digital invitations not only put the focus of fashion shows back on the designs but more importantly, fashion shows become more sustainable.

 

Most attendees of fashion shows reside in hotels for the duration of a Fashion Week. Accordingly, when attendees are bombarded by a multitude of fashion show invites, they compile a mountain of items in their rooms. Once Fashion Week has come to an end, attendees are faced with the decision of either trying to fit the mountain of items into their luggage and flying it back to their home city or leaving it in the hotel. More recently, there has been a third option of re-selling the invites due to the emerging market that has been established for fashion show invites. For instance, the Louis Vuitton FW’20 Clock designed by the late Virgil Abloh is currently on sale at Sotheby’s for $5,500. By digitalising invitations, attendees are not burdened with the clutter of the invites and therefore are not faced with the decision of what to do with the invite once the show has finished. Lastly, and most imperative, it is more sustainable to not use physical items as invitations.

 

The existence of physical items as fashion show invites adds a level of impracticality that could be avoided. To illustrate, American designer Tremaine Emory missed Louis Vuitton’s SS’23 tribute to the late creative designer, Virgil Abloh because was not carrying his invite. The use of physical items as invitations to fashion shows creates chaos. Not only could blunders like this be avoided if invites were digitalised, but the fashion industry would also become more sustainable.

 

When designers decide to use physical items as invites to their fashion shows, they are putting their attendees at risk of being robbed. Spaces at fashion shows are finite, and invites are becoming increasingly difficult to forge, meaning that some individuals will do anything to get their hands on invitations. Gabby Katz recalls attending a fashion show in London where a woman

took a front row seat telling people she was ‘Stephanie Tonchi.’” Having asked to see the woman’s invite, Katz discovered that the victim of the theft was “former W editor-in-chief] Stefano Tonchi’s.” The transition to digital invites would give designers peace of mind towards the safety of their attendees which currently does not exist. More importantly, it would make fashion shows more sustainable.

 

It is not just the physical items as invites themselves that are unsustainable, the nature of having physical items as invites is also unsustainable. When physical items are sent as invites to fashion shows, they waste fuel in being delivered to the hotels and are often wrapped in elaborate packaging. Digital invites do not require any vehicles to deliver them and they do not consist of superfluous packaging that is destined for the bin.

 

Can exceptions be made?


It would be unfair to omit an example of a designer who promotes sustainability through their fashion show invites. FW’2023 New York Fashion Week presented Heron Preston with an opportunity to showcase the collection of his namesake brand for the first time. Heron Preston took the opportunity to present his philosophy of “Less Environmentally Destructive” or L.E.D. Heron Preston personally scoured the streets of New York to curate discarded objects and materials with sufficient surface to include the details of his upcoming show. The 400 invites were all unique from each other, creating a personal touch for the attendees.

 

In an interview with Complex’s Mike Destefano, Preston said this about his invitations: “If discarded, they will be returned to where they came from. If kept, then we’ve managed to turn trash into treasure. Either way, it’s a win.” Preston demonstrates a clear self-awareness about the current unsustainability of fashion invites: “If a fashion show invitation does not have a function or utility, then the chances of it being thrown away are very high. Wasted.”

 

Unfortunately, Preston’s contemporaries do not share his zeal for sustainability. If other designers took inspiration from Preston’s L.E.D., maybe there would be space for a sustainable fashion show invitation. However, until that day arrives, more needs to be done to shine a light on the unsustainability of using physical items as fashion show invites.

 

Concluding remarks


Recognising that the use of physical items as fashion show invitations is an unsustainable practice as a whole is not a radical position. However, it is a position that is not being taken up enough within the fashion industry. Copenhagen Fashion Week has proven that designers can hold successful shows with digital invites as it has nearly done away with designers using physical items as invitations. Change needs to happen quicker if attitudes towards sustainability in the fashion industry are to progress.

 

Sources:

Tamsin Blanchard, “The View from the Front Row: A History of the Fashion Show- Photo Essay”, in The Guardian, 2018.

Amanda Fortini, “How the Runway Took Off: A Brief History of the Fashion Show”, in Slate, 2006.

Samuel Hine, “Fashion Show Invites Have Never Been Crazier”, in GQ, 2023.

Stevie Rowley, “The Most Over-the-top Fashion Show Invites”, in L’Officiel, 2023.

NSS Magazine, The Craziest Invitations to Fashion Shows Ever Sent by Designers, 2022.

Sotheby’s, Louis Vuitton Clock, 2020, 2024.

Mike Destefano, “Heron Preston is Turning Trash into Treasure for his New York Fashion Week Debut”, in Complex, 2023.

Alec Leach, Can We Just Stop With the Novelty of Fashion Show Invites?, 2023.

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