Were you invited to US West's party for the debut of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of "Seattle Slew," the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel's grand opening parties, the Folger Benefit Committee's garden parties, any of William and Jean Marumoto's St. Patrick's Day bashes, or Cadillac Fairview's party to celebrate the completion of the interchange at I-495 and Rte. 50?
If you can't remember, chances are you weren't.
You would have remembered the invitations.
While engraved invitations are de rigueur for White House dinners, embassy functions and the like, bids to other events around this town can range from the wonderful to the bizarre.
Invitations have come printed on road cones, skis, kites, boxes and T-shirts; they've come baked inside loaves of bread, accompanied by champagne, chocolates, cookies and other foods. They've come pinned to orchids and tied to balloons.
"Maybe we'll come full circle in another five years and the plain, printed invitation will be unusual," says Washington public relations consultant Mary Pettus, whose custom-designed invitations for clients' events have run from elegantly engraved cards to invitations affixed to cowboy hats, orchids and even an Andrea Carrano high-heeled shoe.
Why all this attention to the invitation?
"The invitation sets the mood. It tells the whole story," says Rita Bloom, whose special-events business grew out of the need for parties as good as the invitations she was creating.
Public relations consultant Joe Canzeri says invitations are "critical" to the success of any event in Washington. "It's the first thing seen," he said. "It makes a statement on your behalf." Carolyn Engle Amiot, who handles publicity for many charity fundraisers, says that invitations have to be "interest-snaring" because of the competition for money, publicity and important guests.
Whether raising money for charity, promoting a nuclear freeze, honoring a statesman, celebrating a birth, announcing the completion of a highway or a building, raising campaign dollars or raising the curtain on opening night, Washington invitations are increasingly a delight to receive.
"On April 7th, US WEST and The Pacific Northwest Ballet Kick Off Their Latest Production," read the classic, elegant white type on the shiny, black, three-pound box hand-delivered to those invited to the Washington premiere of the ballet "Seattle Slew" at the Kennedy Center. Inside were two gold-painted horseshoes tied to the box with pink ballet toe ribbons. The name "Seattle Slew" was printed beneath. In small type on the bottom of the back side of the box cover was the invitation to a reception, the ballet and a late dinner after the ballet. "Business attire and appropriate footwear are suggested."
A pink Capezio ballet slipper (Size 4 1/2B) carried a scrolled-up invitation to the Movado Watch Corp.'s "Sleeping Beauty Gala" benefit last January for the American Ballet Theatre at the Westin Hotel.
Casablanca A waiter in Moroccan garb from the exotic Marrakesh Restaurant hand-delivered warm loaves of pita bread to another group of guests. "Come break bread with us at a 'Night of a Thousand Delights' celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Susan Davis Companies ... " read the pita-shaped invitations inside.
Say It With Flowers Dave Dilworth of Dilworth Design in Hyattsville said he had wanted the invitations he was designing for the Folger Library Benefit Committee's garden parties to be "something somewhat out of the ordinary." The resulting card in 1985 carried a watercolor print he found of three pink roses, "La Reine Victoria" by Alfred Thompson. In 1987, the same illustration was used on the cover of the Folger committee's invitation to an afternoon tea dance at the British Embassy, with an added backdrop of the embassy's garden gate in sea-foam green. On the inside of that invitation to the party, which carried a "Brideshead Revisited" theme, was a watercolor of the "Brideshead" estate framed in a watercolor border of British emblems and flowers.
Freshly cut white orchids hand-delivered in clear, plastic boxes came with the invitations to Trader Vic's 1984 reopening at the Capital Hilton.
Christmases Past Goldberg, Marchesano and Associates Inc.'s last open Christmas party -- it's now staff-only -- was held in 1980, but the invitations, like the parties themselves, are well-remembered. The best came the year the film "Alien" was released; it parodied in poster size the original "Alien" movie poster, complete with an egglike Christmas ornament oozing green slime and the title "P A R T Y ... It's four stories high and two buildings wide and there is no stopping it ... At this party, no one will hear you scream."
Chopsticks and Shamrocks William H. (Mo) Marumoto and his wife Jean, who are of Japanese descent, have an annual St. Patrick's Day party. One year, the invitation came on a green sticker taped to a small, bright red can of Aji-No-Moto Monosodium Glutamate. It read -- in white type below a white shamrock on the sticker -- "Jean and Mo O'Marumoto zestfully invite you to bring out the full flavor of St. Patrick's Day ... " In other years, the invitation has come printed on a chopsticks wrapper; on a tag inside a colorful, small, fish-shaped kite; on a jar of Kikkoman soy sauce; and on a Japanese flag (with a green rising sun).
One for the Road Cadillac Fairview Urban Development Inc. invited guests to the completion of the interchange at I-495 and Rte. 50 ("thus paving the way for Fairview Park -- a 220-acre office development") -- on one of those heavy, plastic, glow-in-the-dark orange road cones. "One for the Road," it read at the top. Inside was a sticker that read, "Keep this in the trunk of your car for use in case of emergency."
Seed Money Invitations to political fundraisers usually come on standard white cards with black or blue ink; with a drawing or photograph of the U.S. Capitol; with a drawing of the candidate or the candidate's state; or with something respectfully printed in red, white and blue. But some fall well outside of the mainstream.
The year Jim Hightower first ran for Texas commissioner of agriculture, the invitation to his Washington fundraiser came on a card resembling a package of Burpee tomato seeds. Beneath the drawing of a red tomato it said "Seed Money." In the right-hand corner, where the price is usually marked, was the price of the fundraiser: $35.
Former representative Jim Coyne lost his last race in the 8th District of Pennsylvania in 1982, but the invitation to his Washington fundraiser that year -- the year after Atari's Pac-Man took over America -- was a winner. The party was for members of political action committees and was billed as "PAC men and women to meet PAC-MAN!" Pac-Man video games were brought in for the occasion. Around the edge of the invitation were dollar signs about to be gobbled up by two Pac-Man figures.
Clothes Invitations printed on T-shirts were used to open the Center Club, a health and racquet club in Alexandria, and by the National Fitness Council to celebrate National Fitness Testing Week.
The Charlie Daniels Band performed at a benefit for the Vincent T. Lombardi Cancer Research Center and the invitations were printed on blue bandannas.
A 10-gallon hat carried an invitation in the headband to a Public Broadcasting Service barbecue to celebrate "The West of the Imagination," a six-part "saga of the American West as seen through the eyes of its painters, photographers, moviemakers and entertainers."
And then there are black-tie invitations to black-tie events. The Texas State Society gussied up a standard formal card (printed in black ink) to its inaugural party for Vice President-elect George Bush and his wife Barbara in 1981 by adding a thin-rule line with a drawing of a black bow tie centered near the top of the card and a drawing of black cowboy boots with white stars on them at the bottom of the card. The dress was "Black tie and boots," of course.
Buildings Washington landmarks adorn many invitations to Washington parties. The invitations to the eighth annual Buffalo Nite in Washington with New York Reps. John LaFalce, Jack Kemp and Henry Nowak as hosts for a party honoring the city, carried a silhouette of the Capitol dome with a buffalo standing behind it.
The Washington skyline is also popular. Home Box Office Inc. used a partially engraved card of a TV set, over a cutout of the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial against a bright blue background for a 1983 party to honor "Not Necessarily the News," HBO's comedy series that parodies newsmakers and newsbreakers.
The Willard Inter-Continental Hotel, for a series of parties surrounding its opening, hired Washington artist Susan Davis to design invitations. Her evocative watercolor views of the hotel and its setting on Pennsylvania Avenue in different seasons were later collected on a poster that the hotel gave out as a favor.
Natural Treasures The National Parks & Conservation Association (NPCA) also used a Davis watercolor, "Our National Parks," for its invitation to a 1983 reception. Miniature drawings of landscapes, animals, birds and people enjoying the parks adorned the cover.
The American Paralysis Association's 1987 charity ball, "Jungle Adventure," featured an invitation composed of four pages of watercolors (a zebra, a giraffe, a monkey and a tiger) set against the forest. The envelope carried leopard spots on one side and the head of the leopard on the other. The response card featured zebras in black and white and the phrase, "Thank you for stepping out for those who can't."
Everyone Loves the Circus Productions -- that's what the invitations are when you have the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus involved with your fundraiser. In 1983, Shirley Feld, whose husband, the late Israel S. Feld, was executive vice president and treasurer of the circus, was chairman of "An Evening Under the Big Top," a benefit for the Washington School of Ballet, at Saks Fifth Avenue. The invitation was printed on a flat card the size of a popcorn box that opened up to form a three-dimensional display. There was a silver foil backdrop in a tent surrounded by red-nosed clowns.
Some 1,000 invitations, each hand-tinted in 27 different colors, beckoned guests in July 1981 to public relations executive Robert Keith Gray's party for Sen. Paul Laxalt, "the man responsible for bringing the elephants back under the Big Top." The invitation had a circus tent and so did the party. Bags "Carr Concerts" was stamped on bags containing calendars listing the dates of noon-hour concerts at the Willard presented by the hotel's restorer, the Oliver T. Carr Co. Each bag also held a very large chocolate-chip cookie.
Wild World sent invitations for guests to be test pilots on what it claimed was the "East Coast's newest, tallest, and most thrilling roller coaster," on a paper bag that read, "Bring this air sickness bag along. This may be a roller coaster ride you'll never forget."
Nick Seay of Beveridge Byrd Seay, visual communications consultants, designed a party invitation for a friend whose annual first-day-of-summer party theme was "A Shower for Evelyn." Seay had a friend whose pet pig Evelyn had recently given birth. The invitation was printed on a liquor-bottle bag -- it was a BYOB party.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus sent out invitations to the Greatest Show on Earth's 1980 animal walk printed on a bag of peanuts.
Comic Relief The Capital Children's Museum used a cartoon drawing of all kinds of dogs in a Rockettes-like line, kicking up their hind legs, for the annual Kal Kan Capital Follies, a celebrity invitational dog show.
Back in 1981, the League of Conservation Voters used a Pat Oliphant political cartoon of President Reagan announcing his selection of James Watt as secretary of the interior to a forest full of horrified animals screaming "WHATT??," for its "Watt's Wrong" party to help launch a campaign to reelect Sen. Paul Sarbanes and other conservation-minded candidates.
Roach and Famous "They're dying to get in," read the front of a white invitation engraved with drawings of 100 black cockroaches flat on their backs with their little legs up in the air. "But You Don't Have To," it continued on the inside. This was an invitation to the press conference to announce the winner of American Cyanamid Co.'s "Great American Roach-Off," a contest in search of the largest dead cockroach in America. The winning cockroach got a berth in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History's Insect Zoo.
Food, Glorious Food Members of the press received large chocolate clam shells with white chocolate pearls inside (they came in a gray-and-white Raleigh's box) with the invitation to the 1986 Chesapeake Bay Council dinner honoring former senator Charles McC. Mathias. The chocolates were sent by Neal J. Fox, chairman of Raleigh's (and now also Garfinckel's), in his capacity as host.
The new McLean Hilton invited chief executives of area firms to a luncheon and tour of the new hotel's facilities last spring. To ensure their attendance, Mark Robertson, a vice president of Hill & Knowlton, which was handling public relations for the hotel, sent the executives' secretaries balloon-shaped cookie jars filled with Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies along with their bosses' invitations. The turnout, Mark? "Great. An incredible turnout."
Champagne An invitation to a VIP preview party of the Holiday Fitness and Racquet Club in Greenbelt was printed on a silver card that read, "MUSSELS & CHAMPAGNE" in white lettering on the front.
Steve Winter of Winter-Fried Associates sent out the real stuff -- splits of champagne -- for two kickoff parties for the Bartenders' Ball and for Courtesy Associates' 40th-anniversary party last year.
Mesta Memories Perle Mesta, who reigned for 30 years as Washington's "hostess with the mostest," always sent engraved invitations, according to Richard Lillybridge of Copenhaver Inc. And many of her grand parties were held at the Carlton (now the Sheraton-Carlton). So, to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the Sheraton-Carlton had a press reception and tour. The invitation arrived with masks of Mesta and also President Harry S Truman, who held state dinners at the Carlton while the White House was being renovated.
Water Works "Let Kings Dominion rescue you from the long cruel winter!" exclaimed the words in white type on the shiny bright royal-blue box that contained a yellow and blue rubber raft big enough for a Barbie doll to sunbathe in, and an invitation to ride Kings Dominion's new ride, Racing Rivers, last April.
The invitation for the Washington Project for the Arts' 10th-anniversary event, "Ultramarine," "a Phantasmic Undersea Carnival in Day-Glo" at the Yale Steam Laundry Building, was printed on a blue card with a silver drawing of a sardine can, designed by Hank Zangara. Inside the invitation were drawings of various real and imagined sea creatures.
Weddings The most expensive invitation that Copenhaver has ever done, says Lillybridge, probably was for an expensive wedding in May 1980 that reportedly cost between $3 million and $5 million. "Everything was done in gold: the envelope, the gold seal of the country, the gold seal on the envelope; and of course, it was engraved, also," said Lillybridge. The groom and bride? Haiti's former "president for life" Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier and Michele Bennett, now in exile in France.
Toy Stuff If Washington is the center of weird and wonderful invitations, it's far from the sole province.
Mattel Inc. last year invited reporters to view a new line of dolls by means of a pink and gray box emblazoned, "Your Hand-Delivered Invitation ... " When the box was opened, it disclosed a stuffed white satin glove holding out a printed invitation to "the arrival to earth of Spectra and Her Friends from Shimmeron."
The Ski Industries America Apparel and Equipment Show, held annually at the Las Vegas Convention Center, sent Washington Post Fashion Editor Nina Hyde an invitation to its '85 event printed on a ski. In 1986, she got another ski. But it didn't match.
Portraits A portrait of George Washington with a gag over his mouth was on the cover of an invitation to a benefit reception for Self-Determination for D.C. to support its work on the ratification of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment in September 1980.
A portrait of singer Patti LaBelle from her eyes up, printed in purple and silver, was on the cover to "Silverbelle," a benefit for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Schwartz Housing Services and RAP Inc. last March.
A photograph of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s face, superimposed on an aerial photograph of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech there, was printed on a piece of translucent paper tucked inside a distinctive but plain gray invitation to a gala benefit on Jan. 20, 1986, for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Photographs of Idi Amin, the Duvaliers, Richard Nixon, the shah of Iran, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and others were printed on the cover of an invitation to the "Deposed Rulers Ball" given by something called the Noble Experiment Committee in October 1986. Also on the cover was a photo of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Printed beneath his photograph was a single word: "Next?"