A Bad Day in the Life of a Fashion Assistant

by Rachel on May 25, 2010

Since I shared a basic day in the life of a fashion assistant yesterday, it’s time to get into the other aspects of the job…the dirt, juice, etc. Now it’s definitely not all bad, and I’ll describe a good day in the life of a fashion assistant later this week…but here are the straight answers on the not-so-glam stuff.

“Are the assistants really bitchy and mean?”

It really depends on the magazine. When I worked at ELLE, no, the assistants were not really bitchy or mean. They were genuinely nice girls and boys and when a new assistant started, they were super welcoming. No one was going out of their way to screw anyone over. However, there was that sort of, “I was hazed so you will be too” attitude. There were definitely times when someone was left to suffer, but this was probably only if she had screwed things up on her own in the first place. Then it was like, “Well, she has to learn.” There was also a definite, “Not my problem” attitude among the assistants. Like, yes, we helped each other out when we could, but sometimes — usually if we were too busy, not because we were bitches — we’d just say, “That sucks but…I can’t really help you.” Translation: Not my problem.

Sometimes we gossiped, but you’re going to have that at any office. Like, if an intern was just a straight-up idiot, yeah…yeah.

I think the greater temptation was to be bitchy to outsiders, like, say, the guys in the mail room or an idiot PR person. This stemmed more from panic and fear than a desire to be mean. But if they messed up, we were going to be in trouble, and sometimes that frustration would lead to a freak-out. However, you catch more flies with honey, so we definitely definitely tried to keep people happy. Still, when we were interacting with someone who was lazy or irresponsible and didn’t do her job right and it screwed us over…yeah…watch out.

“Are the editors and stylists really bitchy and mean?”

Assistants grow up to be editors and stylists. Some grow up to be bitchier than others. Again, it usually wasn’t being downright cruel (although like I said yesterday, there was one editor who tortured me and many others). It was usually just being very demanding and not recognizing when they were being unreasonable…or recognizing and not caring. They’d make us feel really shitty if we couldn’t get them what they wanted. Sometimes it was by being really brutal, but a lot of times it was by playing the victim — i.e. a sniffly “I just wanted to have a great shoot but I can’t because she didn’t get me any good accessories” in front of our bosses.

Our bosses were like mother hens though, and would almost always defend us. So if, for example, an editor was pissed because I couldn’t get in a specific Hermes pin for a page, my boss would e-mail her and explain that I had tried and tried and that she had tried too, but Sarah Jessica Parker was wearing the pin to the Emmys and there was literally no way to have it to shoot in NYC tomorrow. Then the bosses could kind of duke it out. But it was kind of on the assistant to truly exhaust the possibilities and if she did, the boss would fight for her. We also had to save every e-mail because that was often our saving grace. If you were in the hot seat, you better have proof that the girl at Dolce messed up…not you.

Sometimes our direct bosses got pissed at us though and that, to me, was the worst feeling. There were some stylists and editors who were an absolute dream and it made us want to get them the things they wanted. I loved my bosses and they were so good to me…so when they were disappointed, it sucked.

My male boss — who, for the record, is so much like Bruno, I was legit confused by that movie…like how on earth did they write a whole movie about him!?! How did Sasha Baron Cohen know?? — was bitchy, but it was always so funny. He definitely ripped on girls behind their backs…and sometimes to their (uh, our) faces. But he was so ridiculous, it never really hurt.

“Were people always crying in the bathroom?”

Not always. We all had our moments. You had to have a tough skin! I think I cried in the bathroom maybe three or four times in the year I worked there. As far as fashion mags go, though, ELLE is pretty chill comparatively speaking. From what I’ve heard from my friends/interns…some of the others were total shitshows.

“Were people always puking in the bathroom?”

Ha…no. We weren’t all super-skinny but I think we were all “not fat.” I mean, that’s just NYC in general though. We all definitely ate…but there was an attitude about food. You know the scene in Devil Wears Prada when Nigel tells Andie that cellulite is the first ingredient in her soup? Yeah…if you brought in hot wings and fries, you were bound to get a few raised eyebrows and snide comments. (More behind your back than to your face though.)

There was definitely an attitude about weight when it came to models and celebs and that really bothered me. If we were shooting someone who wasn’t a sample size, people whined and complained. I do think that a lot of times, though, fashion people use the word “fat” as a simple adjective, not an insult. Like, yes, some people just have excess tissue on their bodies and it does affect what clothes we can get for them. It made me uncomfortable at the time, but in hindsight I think it had more to do with the work. And, of course, fashion and Hollywood’s definition of “fat” is not the same as “real world fat.” So I think everyone assumed we were on the same page about this, and they didn’t feel bad calling a celeb fat in front of an assistant who was, technically, fatter.

Still, certain editors used the word a lot and I often got the impression they did it kind of gleefully, because they “could.”

One time in our weekly department meeting we were discussing an upcoming shoot with a celeb and one of the directors said, “Well does Ralph Lauren really want a fat black girl wearing his clothes?” Now, I was an underling assistant who couldn’t say anything, but one thing about me is that I have no poker face (p-p-p-poker face). Everyone in the room saw the way my head basically spun on its axis in that moment and I didn’t care; it was a completely crass and unnecessary comment. A couple seconds later, the person who had said it apologized.

“So is it really like [insert reality TV show name here]?”

Newsflash: reality TV is 100 percent bullshit. Everything is staged. The reality celebs who “work” in fashion do not really work there; they come in only to film and pretend to work. (Sorry if this is devastating to you.) Interns would never fly to Paris (coughTheHillscough) and while I didn’t watch The City — it would make me far too bitter and annoyed — from what I know, it was 100 percent bullshit.  The assignments they got were just like…not.

You want reality? Fine, then…let’s see Olivia Palermo find out at 7 PM on a Friday night that she has to get an Alaia belt that no one has ever seen before — it cannot be the same one Mary-Kate is wearing on the cover above — to a shoot happening the next morning in LA. Alaia is notoriously stingy…but it doesn’t matter, because it’s now Saturday morning in Paris anyway. So she might have to send an intern to Barney’s with her credit card to buy one with the intention of returning it after the shoot on Monday — knowing full well she’s out $600 if anyone so much as scratches it. And Barney’s is closing in a half hour…and they might not let an intern use her credit card…so she should probably go herself but she’s packing the trunks for the shoot…and the trunks will contain approximately a thousand accessories and pieces of fine jewelry that have to be photographed and individually wrapped before they go to the airport at 8 PM. So she could go to Barney’s herself but then she has to leave the interns in charge of packing and just hope to God that she doesn’t come into the closet after the trunks have gone out and see the most important pair of shoes the stylist requested still sitting there. Oh and then the stylist sends an e-mail…”Can we get some sunglasses? Maybe some neon Ray-Bans? And make sure you pack some hats, I think we’d like to incorporate some hats in this shoot, maybe like the ones Burberry did a few years ago. Thanks guys.”

I’d also love to see how Whitney Port handles it when a Chanel bag goes missing and she has to watch hours and hours and hours of security tape, only to conclude that the tapes pretty much show nothing conclusive except that it was probably the weirdo intern who quit yesterday..the intern who was technically an “illegal’ — meaning HR only allows for so many interns but it’s necessary to hire more on the sly to deal with the “You can’t work overtime” issue. So what’s she going to do? Well she’s going to call Chanel and her skinny white ass is going to have to explain what happened to Karl’s favorite bag.

And instead of getting $30,000 per episode (you knew that, right?) she’s getting $30,000 per year.

That’s reality.

“Is it like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’?”

Yes…some days. But it was far less glamorous. It was “The Devil Wears Prada”…meets “The Office.” Our office was not pretty. I had a PC, not a Mac. (!?!) And we had such a cast of characters on the more business side of things. Not everyone is there for the glamour; the office managers, accounting people, etc. were more like Angela and Kevin than Emily. At one point we had two Hispanic receptionists, both named Maria, who both went on spring break together in Mexico and both got pregnant…so then they both went on maternity leave at the same time. Awesome.

It was definitely ridiculous, but it’s still a part of who I am and how I work. Nothing scares me when it comes to jobs now. Fashion girls — true ones, good ones — are tough as nails. They find a way to get the Alaia belt and they come in on Monday, knowing it wasn’t even shot for the mag, but they just get back to business and do the same panic dance all over again the next time there’s a crazy request.

Like I said, it wasn’t all bad and I’ll get into the fun stuff tomorrow because when it was fun and glam, it really was! But yeah…when it was bad, it was wretched.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ashley May 25, 2010 at 8:00 am

Sadly this does nothing but re-ignite my fantasies of the Allure dream job that never was! Everything aside, I’m so jealous you got to work at Elle.
.-= Ashley´s last blog ..Diabetes is having a moment =-.

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2 Alli May 25, 2010 at 10:28 am

I used to intern at ElleGirl (same building) and I totally remember the Marias! Wow, taking me back today…

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3 Melissa May 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I want to hang out with the Maria’s. Those are my kind of gals!

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4 Beth May 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm

“But it’s an ALAAAIIIA…!” Cher, anyone?

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