Somerset House’s Invitation Strictly Personal exhibition of Iain R Webb’s fashion memorabilia is more than a collection of fashion show invitations from the 1980s and 90s. I clearly remember falling eagerly upon the newspaper on the days Webb was published in it, absorbing every word of his reviews and analysis. Now I can see the manuscript notes and sketches he was making as those shows took place, right alongside the copy he filed.
Here we see Thierry Mugler’s Robocop woman, dominating the sketchbook and the published article. Cyborg woman has a far stronger pictorial presence than in the text of the article which mentions Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier only at the end of a review of Paris Fashion Week S/S 91.
In fact the review decries the dearth of really wearable clothes on show, amongst too many conceptual collections. Mugler and Gaultier stood out to Webb, not for the sprinkling of designs of eye-catching eccentricity, but for the more wearable clothes featured alongside them.
What makes this such a fascinating exhibition is the chain of ideas on show here. From the invitations showcasing the designers’ statement of intent, to the sketches and notes in the heat of the moment (clearly showing the blockbuster outfits hit their mark) and the fully digested copy filed with the publication. Like a baton relay, the concept is passed from designer to the fashion media who in turn pass it to their readership. Blockbuster outfits communicate the pure essence of the idea but the wearable stars of the collection garner the gold stars.
As the biggest brands start increasingly to use social media to create a direct relationship with their customers and fans, its an interesting question as to whether we lose something of the critical eye, the overall context and the interpretation that comes through the filter of specialist journalism.
If you’re in London, do see this show before 22 March; more at www.somersethouse.org.uk