Dispatches From Fashion Week

Invitation Etiquette
The language of style.
Sept. 18 2006 6:41 PM

Dispatches From Fashion Week

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When you go to a movie premiere, you notice that people who know their way around never carry their invitations to the theater. In Hollywood, the paramount thing is to be on the List, and all truly important people are too important to wave around a piece of paper.

In Fashion World, however, even eminences arrive at shows with the appropriate credentials in hand. To do so is both expeditious in the manner of an E-ZPass—better to wait in a chair than on your heels—and also a rule of social etiquette. The individuals who flout the rule with the most style are the progeny of people who are extraordinarily cool: If you are Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, you can gain entry with naught but a pack of Marlboro Lights in hand. (Her mother is the murderously elegant editor of the French edition of Vogue.) If you are Theodora Richards, then it suffices to say, politely, "My name is Theodora Richards." (Her father is one of the guitarists on Sticky Fingers.)

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

Betsey Johnson Invitation. Click image to expand.
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For most audience members, though, the experience of any designer's collection begins with the invitation, and so the invitation—a ticket to an imaginary world where everything has been stripped away but art, craft, status, and symbolism—must make a statement. The crew from Heatherette announced their intent to shock the bourgeois, or somebody, via an oversized envelope colored Schiaparelli pink. Zac Posen sent out a mirrored number, and I will bet you that it served handsomely, in some quarters, as a surface from which to partake of high-quality narcotics. Bill Blass did little more than evoke Palm Beach. Five favorites:

Betsey Johnson. Betsey said she found this exquisitely creepy paper doll in a junk shop and that it was a natural fit with her "babycakes" theme, an idea that further played out in her choice of set design. Never mind that the Jacquard jumpers and pencil skirts actually had some career-girl sophistication to them: The designer tarted up the runway so it had the feeling of a French brothel rearranged for a children's party. Crazy Betsey served delicious cupcakes.

Nanette Lepore Invitation. Click image to expand.

Nanette Lepore. The big script, like many of Lepore's enchanting party dresses, is in chartreuse, a color that came as a revelation—an acid pastel, an aggressive prettiness, a quasi-neon kick. The words and phrases on the skirt allude to the everyday concerns of women everywhere: phone dentist, call decorator, book the yacht, collect alimony …

Badgely Mischka Invitation. Click image to expand.

Badgley Mischka. I think it's engraved. I'm sure it's sturdy enough for use as both a writing board and a cafeteria tray.

Grey Ant Invitation. Click image to expand.

Grey Ant. If you can't tell, this woman is eating a rat with the cold table manners of an early Surrealist. This got my hopes up, and when I went to the show, I discovered entertainment of an even higher order: A Los Angeles troupe called Hysteria Dance Company modeled the outfits (which looked like postpunk sportswear) while doing numbers that easily outclassed Mark Morris' recent work.

Vivienne Tam Invitation. Click image to expand.

Vivienne Tam. The invitation reminds me of some stationery I bought at Kate Spade a few months ago, which partly explains why I liked the show. The rest of the explanation has to do with Tam's having given me a second-row seat, a superb perch for admiring her quietly beautiful embroidery and cutwork. That the perch was mine was either proof that I had somehow arrived or the consequence of a catastrophic clerical error.

You'll want to know that no one holds an invitation like Tinsley Mortimer, and that Tinsley holds only the best invitations. She's got range: Tinsley can flaunt an invitation as if it's a visa, clutch it like an opera ticket, and even search her purse for it with an air of harried glamour.

I decided that Mrs. Mortimer—who seemed to be going everywhere and, once there, doing nothing, all the time, all week—was the individual who best embodied the spirit of Fashion Week. I became convinced of this after floating the idea to a fashion insider who responded by giving me the best condescension I ever had: "Well, she's a New York socialite, and she's friends with all the top designers ... The idea is accurate, but it's not news." Tinsley loves clothes, and she's always wearing just the right thing. For instance, when we chatted the other night at a party at Roberto Cavalli's Madison Avenue boutique where she was on hostess duty, she wore a purple Cavalli gown and a pair of animal-print shoes that were, it seemed momentarily possible, actually made out of cheetahs. I missed where Tinsley gets her hair curled—other girls have begun to imitate her ringlets—but she was clear about the fact that it's Kyle at the Oscar Blandi Salon who gets it that festive color.

I asked Tinsley to define the true essence of Fashion Week. "What does it all mean?" she said, screwing her doll-like face up as she weighed the question. "It's an industry."

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