An insight into life as an intern at London Fashion Week
43 emails looking for a fashion week internship and 1 yes from 1 top London PR Company. I stuffed 500 Erdem goody bags, wrote 400 Fendi party invites, licked 300 Matthew Williamson envelopes, ate 40 Pret-a-Manger sandwiches, packed 20 items of black clothing into 1 very heavy suitcase, saw 18 celebrities, enjoyed 1 chauffeur-driven trip around London to 14 glamorous hotels to deliver invites, bandaged 7 blisters from my killer heels, had 6 seconds of accidental eye contact with Olivia Palermo, wore 5 backstage passes at 5 hot shows, scored 4 free goody bags, stood 3 feet from Anna Wintour, sat in row 2 at Emilio de la Morena and had 1 amazing week.
Less than 24 hours before my very first fashion internship was due to begin I was sitting in the departure lounge of the airport reading an article entitled ‘The Truth about Fashion Week’ and beginning to feel nervous. Two weeks earlier, after a month of emailing just about every designer, production company and PR agency this side of the Atlantic, I had secured a place as a showroom assistant at Relative MO, a prestigious London PR company. Relative represent a host of top names, from Vanessa Bruno and Nicholas Kirkwood to Erdem, Giles and Mary Katrantzou. To say I was excited would be an understatement. But I had read enough intern horror stories and seen enough episodes of Ugly Betty to be a little apprehensive. Reading yet another expose on the ugly side of the beautiful people, butterflies of excitement became butterflies of fear. Stepping out the next morning at 8 a.m. in the quiet London suburb ready for the morning commute in my on trend, if out of place, leather skirt and five inch platforms, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Here’s my attempt to separate fact from fiction.
Fashion is glamorous, day in, day out – FICTION
Well at least partially fiction. There were moments of glamour beyond my wildest pre-Fashion Week dreams. I addressed Fendi party invites to Lucinda Chambers, Emmanuelle Alt, Lily Donaldson, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. I was chauffeured around central London in a private town car to the kind of hotels where bellboys jump to open your car door for you, to hand-deliver invites for important editors. I sent £3000 gowns to Vogue for shoots with SJP. However, 400 Fendi invites later my hand ached; the enthusiasm with which bellboys opened my car door was quickly followed by a look of embarrassment on their part and mine as a lowly intern emerged; the Erdem dress that would have weeks before warranted squealing and some jumping up and down became just another sample, and Vogue House just another address. It is amazing how quickly the novelty wears off. Add to that the daily dose of tidying the storeroom and steaming clothes and any illusions of glamour are shattered.
That said, Fashion Week is an exception to the rule. Sitting opposite Olivia Palermo at Emilio de la Morena or having Anna Wintour pass within 3 feet of you backstage at Matthew Williamson is beyond surreal. The mounting music, the buzz of excitement from the crowd and the glittering flash of cameras as Abbey Lee and Jessica Stam stomp down the runway is exhilarating. Even the seasoned staff, able to remain blasé about events and parties that most fashion students would sell their grandmothers for an invite to, emerge from successful shows elated, grinning ear to ear.
As an intern you will be used and abused – FICTION
Yes, as an intern you will be given menial jobs, you will tidy and clean and run errands, but what else would you expect? Fashion shows can make or break a designer, a badly run show could cost a PR agency their reputation and shows can cost up to £300,000. Needless to say you won’t be left in charge of anything wildly important. But that doesn’t mean that you are underappreciated. The ‘everyone in fashion is a bitch cliché’ is only a cliché. Sure, the other interns had a few horror stories of uncooperative models backstage or monster designer egos, but the majority of people I met were respectful and encouraging with the interns. Having made a major mistake when writing out show invites for important international guests I moped around all day expecting to be sent packing. What I actually got was a smile, a hug, and told that everyone makes mistakes.
However, I did have a few crazy errands to run. At the set up for a show, I was sent by a designer’s manager to get sticky dots that would adhere to, but not ruin, the walls of the listed building we were in, at 6pm on a Sunday. As shops around me closed up for the day, it was a tense 15 minutes before I stumbled across Rymans. Arriving back I was sent to find scissors to cut lilies that were to be arranged in vases around the room – a reasonable enough request, except that not many people bring scissors in their handbag to a fashion show. I eventually found a restaurant to lend me a steak knife, which I had to carry back in my hand through Somerset House to the show space, expecting to be tackled by a security guard at any moment. The following day I had two hours in which to open 800 cardboard boxes of various products, which would later be packed into goody bags. I emerged with pressure sores from using scissors to open all the boxes, but with about £100 worth of St.Tropez and Charles Worthington goodies to show for it! And at the end of the day, in return for a week or two of errand-running, interns get to attend the shows of major fashion labels – Emilio de la Morena, Matthew Williamson, Erdem, Giles, Mary Katrantzou and Amanda Wakeley.
You NEED contacts to get started in fashion – FICTION
Fashion is a notoriously difficult industry to break into. Contacts will help, a lot of the interns at Relative knew an account manager through a friend or a friend of a friend. However, it isn’t essential. I didn’t know anyone at the company. I was just eager, really, really, embarrassingly eager. I researched the company, I knew the designers, and given 6 questions about why I wanted to work there, I had six pages of answers – that kind of enthusiasm and passion shows through. If you get a break you just need to make the most of it, treat every lowly task you’re assigned as important and always volunteer to go the extra mile – people will notice. After my three weeks, I now have the contacts I didn’t have before and a glowing reference from the showroom manager ready to attach to my CV, wherever I choose to send it next summer. If you want an internship in fashion, you can make it happen. However, you do need to be ready for rejection. Out of 43 companies contacted I got one yes – but one is all you need.
Photography – Rachel Neely