What makes a person cherish an invitation long after the event has taken place? The answer isn’t hard to divine viewing Iain R Webb’s collection of fashion show invitations and gifts built over his decades as a fashion journalist, currently on show at Somerset House. It’s a small but highly interesting insight into a rarefied world before the days of internet streaming and cinematic presentation.
One invitation above all caught my eye: the rusty key and handwritten label from John Galliano’s A/W 94-5 show. Its slightly haunting aspect belies the fact that it represented, quite literally, a make-or-break moment in the designer’s career. Deserted by his financial backer and only retaining a small but loyal team around him, he lacked resources even to create a collection let alone stage a show.
Galliano was saved by Anna Wintour, who found him a new backer and a location for the show. The location was an empty Paris mansion owned by Sao Schlumberger. Limited cash meant a collection of only 17 outfits, all made of the same black satin. As so often though, necessity proved to be the mother not only of invention but pure genius. Galliano’s own words tell the story best.
“We opened windows, brought in tons of dead leaves to scatter around, filled fallen chandeliers with rose petals, created unmade beds and carefully placed upturned chairs at various points. We filled the house with dry ice so that the whole place had a desolate, poetic look, like a Sarah Moon photograph. We lit the house from outside to give it an early morning dew feel. The girls worked the whole house from the top floor down. It was like an old salon presentation. Gorgeous creatures with heavenly, heady make-up wandering through this deserted house, bending down and looking for abandoned love letters in the dust…it was magic.” *
And it proved to be commercial magic too. Weeks later he had a new atelier and a list of highly prestigious clients. Two years later he was appointed designer at Givenchy and a year after that at Dior. The metaphor of the key had proved even more apposite that he could have imagined.
* From “Galliano” by Colin McDowell (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997)