'Imagination will take you everywhere'
On June 30th 2014 I completed a great ambition of mine.
I crossed the threshold from reality into planet fashion and lived to tell the tale.
British Vogue – the pinnacle of fashion journalism; the fashion bible for our humble nation – accepted me on to a three-week work experience placement. And as I stepped through the revolving glass doors and into the immaculate foyer of Vogue House, I couldn’t believe my luck. The nerves were well and truly churning as I made my way to the fifth floor – I was bracing myself for a chaotic urban jungle of glamour, luxury and bitchiness (the stereotypical fashion magazine), with long-legged style-mavens clad in Céline and tottering in their Jimmy Choos. Think The Devil Wears Prada: and I was to be the Anne Hathaway (pre-makeover) of British Vogue.
Let me explain how all of this came about…
The only reason I managed to secure the placement in the first place was the fact that I had been a finalist in the 2013 Vogue Talent Contest, a prestigious writing competition (view my entries here: an experience, an interview and a cultural feature). However I was slightly lacking in experience within fashion magazines, so my first day was incredibly daunting. The Vogue offices were just as I imagined: sleek, minimal and white – plus rails and rails of clothes lining the corridor. The employees all possessed that effortless sense of cool – not only in their sense of style, but also in their lifestyle (Many of them were regulars at the Chiltern Firehouse). Just being in the same office as people I hugely admire gave me a massive buzz; the wonderful Kate Phelan, the indomitable Emily Sheffield, the lovely Sarah Harris, the hilarious Fiona Golfar, and of course the esteemed Alexandra Shulman. I just wanted to fan-girl all the time! But I forced myself to adopt a professional demeanour, otherwise I would have been chucked out.
Thankfully the icy atmosphere within The Devil Wears Prada and which I had expected in the Vogue offices was nowhere-to-be-seen; instead it was a warm, friendly and creative working environment – with plenty of chit-chat and frequent bursts of laughter. But do not be mistaken; when these girls have a job to do, they will get it done. Naively I thought that this placement wouldn’t be as tense as my previous work experience (The Daily Telegraph) – surely a monthly couldn’t be as fast-paced as a daily? But I was wrong. I’ve learnt that deadlines are important on any publication – in fact probably even more so on a monthly fashion magazine as they have a three-month lead time, which means they have to be extra organised and plan out features/shoots months in advance.
The two other interns who were ‘work experiencing’ with me were absolutely lovely and showed me the ropes (as well as put up with my constant stream of questions – I really was completely clueless!). The main day-to-day tasks were the usual dull work experience chores: photocopying, answering and making phone calls, fetching coffee, delivering the post, emptying the recycling bin and just generally doing anything that needs to be done. Although mundane, these little jobs keep the magazine afloat – without us, the office would fall apart (that’s what I kept telling myself).
But the main job during my placement was the dreaded ‘clothes return’; returning sample items used in photo-shoots to PR companies and fashion houses. At first I really enjoyed wrapping up the items (which enabled me to handle such exquisite garments made with high quality craftsmanship) and then taking them to the mailroom to be delivered. I loved seeing what would be splashed across the trend pages in the October issue, although it was slightly strange seeing big warm coats, chunky sweaters and boots, when it was a sweltering heatwave outside. But after a while the clothes returns piled up so much that it became a stressful battle to stay on top of everything – plus the PR companies understandably wanted the items back as soon as possible, which created more pressure for us. This was probably the worst aspect of the placement, however it’s always going to be high pressure considering Vogue is the bible of fashion; there is going to be a lot of clothes involved no matter what. Anyway, we pulled through and managed to get on top of everything by the end of my placement so that was an accomplishment.
Evidently, I’ve come to the conclusion that although I enjoy fashion, I’m probably not best suited to handling it in terms of styling or being a fashion assistant. What I’m really interested in is the features within the magazine – more specifically the arts pages. Nothing gets me more excited than a frank and open interview with an up-and-coming actress, or an entertaining review of the latest must-see art exhibition, or a Q & A with a film-maker/designer/musician. It’s these sorts of features which I want to write one day in the not-too-distant future. So I loved helping the writers with research for their articles; I particularly enjoyed venturing into the dark depths of the Vogue archive (in the basement) to photocopy pages from the back catalogue, all of which are pristine and neatly kept in hardback volumes organised in date order. The vastness and history of the magazine is obvious through the rows and rows of powder blue leather-bound books, which reminded me how lucky I was to be interning at such a distinguished publication.
Attending the features meeting during my last week was the highlight of the experience, as it was the first time I actually felt involved with the thought-process behind the publication – as if they were letting me in on an intensely guarded secret. It was here that I was formally introduced to Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of Vogue, (her office is like heaven) who led the meeting between other senior editors, while I perched on the windowsill with the assistants. It was incredibly insightful – just watching them discuss future feature ideas and plan out sections months in advance was fascinating (they’d even started creating the December Christmas gift guide – in July!). However I’m afraid I cannot divulge any secrets from the inner sanctum of fashion’s holy grail, as I was literally sworn to secrecy – I even signed a confidentiality agreement. So I can’t let slip who the next few cover stars will be (but you’re in for a treat)!
In terms of embarrassing moments à la Anne-Hathaway-in-The-Devil-Wears-Prada…there were only a few, which is surprising as I’m a rather clumsy person. There were a few times when I struggled to balance all of the coffees I was carrying, as well as the money that the editors had given me (and I may have almost dropped someone’s money down the crack of the elevator door), which must have made me look a bit like a moron – picture Anne Hathaway running across a New York street carrying coffee and almost spilling it everywhere. The main humiliation however, was down to a clothing malfunction; more specifically some cheap sandals (I blame Primark), which broke in the morning, so I then had to wrap sellotape around my foot and sandal to prevent it from falling off. Consequently I was squeaking around the office for the whole day, thus making me feel slightly out-of-place in a room filled with glossy women wearing high-quality footwear. I predict a surge in sellotape inspired sandals for S/S 15.
Overall I’ve learnt that, ironically, it’s not what you wear and what you look like; it’s about how well you do your job, how passionate you are about the subject area and how you integrate with other people. If you are friendly, polite and work hard, then you can achieve anything. Hopefully the contacts I’ve made and the experience I’ve garnered will benefit my future career.
So while my friends were living it up in Kavos, partying in Amsterdam and tanning in Tenerife, I was spending about £150 a week on the Chiltern Mainline to Marylebone. Boy, commuting is tough. But the experience was worth every penny; and what’s more, the legacy will endure far longer than any tan.