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Life as a fashion intern: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

fashion intern
Thomas Martino
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Published on May 19, 2014

This is a guest post by Sarah Brown for Student Stories. 

It was the Pirate’s Booty Puffs that ultimately saved me. I could only have the Veggie flavor because the Aged White Cheddar had dairy (duh) and I’m allergic. They were in big boxes in the showroom’s tiny kitchen and I looked forward to helping myself every time I came in.

There was always this glorified picture of what life as a fashion intern looked like stapled to the back of my brain.

Accounts from my Teen Vogue issues fed me images of closets filled with Louboutin, Burberry, and Chanel, and starstruck encounters with Marc Jacobs and Karl Lagerfeld. Such experiences would assuredly occur during my internship as well.

However, I more accurately experienced “what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger” firsthand.

I tried to look cute for my first day, but knew that I failed miserably based on the staredown I received from the PR manager.

As it happened, my clothing was of little importance, because she immediately put me to work cleaning the bathroom. Judging by the layers of dust around the toilet base, it had been left untouched for some time. I came out of the bathroom to her disdainfully scanning the kitchen floor. It wasn’t clean enough. She looked at me and I looked at the other intern, whose task it was to tackle the kitchen.

The thought of being criticized on my first day gave me heart palpitations. Thankfully, that would be the only time I had to clean the bathroom, and my trips to the kitchen were only for grabbing bags of Booty Puffs.

As a sales intern, my primary responsibility was to prepare expense reports on Excel for the sales manager, Reagan, and the Empress.

The Empress. The Head Honcho. The Queen. Aside from the designer himself, it was her that everyone revered and feared all at once. Technically, she held the title of President, however her duties remained an enigma to me. Coming in like a petite natural disaster, she commanded everyone’s attention when she was around.

If I’m honest, I dreaded her presence.

She often (politely) asked that one lucky intern to clean her office. As I said, she was like a natural disaster, so you might use your  imagination to comprehend the state of her space. And after spending an hour organizing and cleaning – sweating in that outfit I hoped they would compliment – The Empress would come in and say, “Oh, no, I wanted those shoes stacked against this wall.” You mean the thirty pairs that I just unpacked and organized according to size and color against that wall? Excellent. I’ll get right on that.

My frustration heightened with every repeated task.

A month or so after starting my internship, I called my mom and informed her I was not going to quit. “You mean at some point you were going to quit?” I ga-fawed at her question.

Of course I was going to quit! Every day since my first day! It was just all too much. Too ridiculous.

Besides, I wasn’t going into the fashion industry and I wouldn’t be the first to leave. But then, I did get the position, and I did make a commitment.

The internal war was tearing me apart; until one day, I stepped into the showroom and saw Reagan up to her ears in clothing and boxes waiting to be shipped. When she saw me, Reagan exclaimed, “Oh my God, Sarah, I’m so glad you’re here! I need your help.”

It was then that I realized that they had grown to rely on me, no matter how many times I had to re-do my work or how frustrated I felt. (Note to employers and supervisors: Making minions feel necessary is a wonderful way to win their loyalty!)

Interning became easier after I decided to stay. I found myself looking forward to roaming new parts of the City with HopStop directions in one hand and garment bags in the other; or munching on my veggie puffs while I entered expenses;  or having the rare treat of Reagan calling a taxi to take me home so I wouldn’t have to ride the subway late at night.

The reward was well worth it in the end too.

Near the conclusion of the semester, the PR manager – who continually treated me like a plebeian – forced a smile and said, “You’re my favorite intern, Sarah.” This was indeed after I had done her a favor, but my heart swelled nonetheless. I also saw the shadow of make-up artist Bobbi Brown and had an encounter with a reality T.V. star!

But the ultimate treat was, of course, the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, to which I, Sarah Brown, had a backstage pass! My years as a dedicated reader of Teen Vogue allowed me to appreciate what an honor it was to be in the main tent in Bryant Park. I did not enter with paparazzi trailing behind. But I did wear a new dress bought for the occasion, and I was able to watch the show with two other interns. Everyone had their happy faces on, especially The Empress, which left me feeling as though I could be happy too.

The show was a success and I knew that, in some small way, I had played a part in making it a triumph.

On my last day, Reagan and I went into the Starbucks below the showroom for my exit interview. We caught up like old friends, and then she told me that if I ever needed a recommendation, to use her name. I heard applause somewhere in the distance.

I had not quit and it had been worth it.

As we got up to leave, I wondered to myself where I could buy a bag of Pirate Booty Puffs…

Coffee in hand, I bid her farewell and stepped out into the sunshine.

About the Author:

Sarah enjoys drinking coffee, doing yoga, and reading publications other than Teen Vogue. After spending a year abroad, Sarah chose to return to school as a Social Work major at Appalachian State University; thus, forever sealing her fate as the girl who will never own a timeless Burberry trench or don a glamorous gown by Dior. However, she comforts herself with the thought of helping others in need and never having to arrange shoes again.  (Contact: brown.sarahanne@gmail.com)

Thomas Martino

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