Classy touch to guarantee acceptance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 1997, 12:00am

In a town where parties are as commonplace as side-street noodle shops, event organisers are hard-pressed to keep invitation ennui at bay.

After all, the season is fast approaching where guests are required to fill space at cocktail parties and fashion shows, tables at charity balls - and, that bane of every PR person's life, the product launch.

But organisers believe the more innovative and design-led the invitation, the greater the likelihood that people will show up.

This is evidently a core philosophy of luxury jewellery and watch company Piaget, which this week sent out invitations for a September 8 black tie dinner.

The blue notecards came attached to gift-wrapped boxes of what looked like nuggets of silver and lapis lazuli.

In fact, they were French candied almonds, coated in Piaget's signature colours.

The Swiss company is one of a number of enterprising party-organisers who believe that invitations designed with flair will stand out from the steady slew that will soon start adorning recipients' mantelpieces.

'There are so many events in Hong Kong that if the invitation card is interesting, it's much more likely that people will really want to come,' said Alicia Kwan, Piaget's spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

Its forthcoming event will launch a gold model of a Piaget classic timepiece, Protocole.

The gold-coloured box was designed by the company to reflect the shape of the watch.

Piaget has cultivated a giddy tradition of invitations: previous versions have included blue leather-edged mirrors - on which the details are inscribed - jewellery boxes containing sepia-tinted scrolls and four dozen hand-delivered roses.

The Shop of Green and Found, a Hong Kong-based company which has the rights to Gianni Versace locally and in the mainland, adopts a similar approach, according to Peter Wong, managing director of IPS which organises corporate events.

Guests at the opening of the Versace store in Beijing in 1995 received a colourful compact disc containing the music used for one of the late designer's audacious catwalk shows.

'They loved it and they will remember it,' said Mr Wong.

Last year, at another store opening in Shanghai, invitations arrived attached to a gilt pin topped with a Medusa head - a Versace logo.

Even if all that sounds just a little too elaborate for what are essentially commercially driven events, design experts believe that it is vital for invitation cards to reflect a company's corporate identity.

'The most important thing is that every visual piece sent out by the company should adhere to an overall look,' said Debora Chatwin, managing partner of Artistree Enterprise, a company specialising in brand identity and design.

'Your invitation is your identity, it's your image,' she said.

But extravagance should not replace intelligent, stylish design, she said.

'To do something clever and interesting does not mean to go over the top. It's important to grab someone's attention when you think of how many invitations are received by people who are always on the social pages,' said Ms Chatwin. The more socially significant the event, the more important the invitation.

Next month's fund-raising dinner sponsored by Alfred Dunhill will see Princess Diana as its guest of honour. Places, at up to $15,000 each, were snapped up almost as soon as they became available.

Even so, organisers know that invitations - which will be given by table-buyers to their guests - are important.

'Some people might want to keep the card as a souvenir, so the design is very important,' said Cecilia Tsang, spokesman for Alfred Dunhill.

Rich paper cut to resemble a Hong Kong silhouette will reflect the 'city theme' to underline the event.

Guy Nicholls, production director of CDN Publishing Ltd, which does high-end invitations, said invitations to even serious corporate events 'need some design flair'.

With clients like Hermes, the Jebsen group and Alfred Dunhill, Mr Nicholls anticipates the cost of invitations can occupy a sizeable chunk of corporate marketing budgets: cards that require ribbons and tassels which need to be attached by hand can send prices skyrocketing.

Certain types of paper can do the same. Mr Nicholls described the Phoenix Imperial or Rives Tradition blends as 'simple and classic yet rich-looking'.

Simple it may be, but a couple of hundred cards in these qualities, as Italian lingerie group La Perla sent out for a fashion show in April, can run to about $5,000.

Mr Nicholls conceded that this being Hong Kong, size is everything. 'People love nice, big, stiff invitations,' he said.

'But it's not always practical because larger invitations tend to get damaged in the post which can reduce their effect.

'It's not much good receiving this gorgeous invitation that arrives completely crumpled.

'You don't have to be particularly dramatic to get the message across,' he said, citing a set of invitations sent out by the Jebsen group for their 100th anniversary which featured a simple corporate logo on the front, stylish type-face and the best quality paper available.

Some firms prefer to be more experimental.

Skincare company La Prairie will soon be sending out invitations to a product launch that will be accompanied by kumquats in a silver and blue tin.

'When something that is so detail-orientated like that arrives, especially by hand, it grabs the attention of the recipient and shows them how important they are,' said Ms Chatwin of Artistree.

If a company is clever and plans ahead, there are ways to keep costs down while not sacrificing quality.

Because the price per card decreases as quantities mount, Mr Nicholls advises clients to print extra copies of the outer cover of their invitations, which can be re-used for other PR events later on.

However, cost-cutting is not really on the agenda of companies like Piaget, which spent $300 on each of their almond-filled gift-boxes - not including ribbons or delivery.

But Mr Nicholls admitted that ultimately, the invitation was secondary to the perceived value of the party.

'If I really wanted to go to something, a phone call would do,' he said.