People are always asking me how I became a fashion editor and the truth is, it was so long ago I can barely remember! I jest, but believe me, when I was starting out, the competition for styling and fashion editor jobs was nothing compared to what it is now. When people watch the Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty I don’t know what happens but they become completely deluded that being a fashion editor is about strutting the streets in high heels, swingy ponytails and Phillip Lim jackets (oh wait, it is if you work at Teen Vogue).
The reality is rather different. If you live for fashion the job is certainly fun, creative and varied but make no mistake, it’s flippin’ hard work as well. And the hardest part is getting that Miu Miu-shod foot in the door. So for all you wannabe Emmanuelle Alts out there, here’s my fool-proof guide to beating the competition.
Work for free
Unfair though it is, if you want a job in any creative industry – film, TV, magazines, fashion – you have to be prepared to work for nothing. Why? Because if you don’t there’s always some eager beaver behind you who will happily fill your shoes. Hell, things are so crazy now that even getting a work experience placement or an internship is like applying for a paid job.
Before you’ve even set foot in the Vogue/Dazed/Heat office, you’ve got to make a good impression so for God’s sake be professional about it. Find out the person’s name who will end up being your direct boss and address them by their name, nor Dear Sir or To Whom It May Concern. (Hint: You’ll find it on the ‘masthead’, the list of names within the first few pages of the magazine.) Please spell their name correctly, bad-spelling and typos are unforgivable if you work in journalism. Make your letter brief – one or two paragraphs will suffice. Tell them why you will be an asset to their team (not what they can do for you) and don’t be afraid to kiss ass. All bosses love to have their egos stroked so pepper your letter with sincere-sounding compliments. If you’re emailing your application, whatever you do, don’t type in text speak. And if you’re sending out multiple applications and have copied and pasted, please, please, please check that you haven’t left a stray ‘I’d love to work for Vogue’ when you’re writing to Elle. If in doubt, get someone to proof read your email/letter before you send it.
Previous experience required
The only things I care to see on a CV are: name, address, email address, mobile phone number, date of birth, qualifications and the biggie…previous experience.
It’s all very chicken and egg but most magazines want someone who already has some experience so that person knows what to expect and won’t abandon ship after the first day. So if you have some previous experience flag it up in your letter then expand on it in your CV. No experience? Flag that up too but say how keen and willing you are to do anything. And point out how you can make yourself available at short notice. That way, if someone does drop out at the last minute (and it happens all the time), you’ll get first dibs.
You should never lie about experience on your CV because it will find a way to come and bite you on the bum, however lying about your age is different (but you didn’t hear it from me). A lot of magazines don’t allow work experience/interns under the age of sixteen. This is because you need a certain level of maturity to be a self-starter and to be able to go on errands without having a hysterical breakdown if you get lost. If you think you’re mature enough and you look 16 then chances are no-one’s going to check your ID (not in the UK anyway).
Always follow up your email/letter. No-one has time to send replies these days so you must call to check that the email was received. Give it a couple of days, no longer, otherwise they’ll have forgotten you (popular mags get upwards of ten applications a day and even the less popular ones get ten a week). Don’t be shy. If you get this internship you’re going to be spending morning, noon and night on the phone so you may as well get over your talking-to-strangers phobia now.
Treat your internship like a paid job
The fact is, interns are like slaves and at the beginning you’re being tried out so you have to start with the shitty jobs. We’ve all been there. If you can act like opening post, unpacking boxes and colour-photocopying (worse than normal photocopying, it’s ten times slower) is the best fun you’ve ever had and do it like your life depends on it, then you’ll get upgraded to, oh I dunno, tidying the beauty cupboard and cold-calling Prs.
Magazines work on tight deadlines and are usually under-staffed and fashion editors need things to be done fast and efficiently. This is why we’re stressed and shouty. It’s not that we’re horrible people we just need things done, like now! If you’re asked to do something and can’t get it done, don’t just ignore it and hope it will go away. Use your initiative and find a way to do it. Photocopiers run out of toner, people take days off, if the person you need to talk to isn’t there or the photocopier’s broken make sure you at least let us know. If you fuck up on something small you won’t get a chance to do the exciting stuff.
Every intern’s dream is to go on a shoot but however creative, clever and extrovert you are, I can assure you that you won’t be going on shoots from the off. Chances are you’ll spend most of your time in the fashion cupboard. Look at any magazine, however crappy and look at just how much stuff is photographed for their fashion pages. Now multiply this by 100. That’s the volume of merchandise (clothes, shoes, accessories, jewellery, tights, underwear etc etc) that goes in and out of the fashion cupboard. And guess who has to unpack it, log it, hang it up and return it? Although it’s a mindless task it’s vital to pay attention to what your doing when it comes to ‘returns’. A fashion editor’s nightmare is when things get returned to the wrong place and when this happens they know exactly who to blame. Even if it’s doesn’t come naturally, make a supreme effort to be tidy, organised and quick when it comes to working in the cupboard and I promise this will fast-track you to fashion editor success. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the job is never done. Each time you feel the rails emptying, you can be sure they’ll fill up again just as quickly so don’t let it demoralise you, just accept that’s the way it is.
The most exciting part of an internship –allegedly. Most fashion editors have an assistant so don’t really need to take an intern on a shoot. Therefore you really have to earn the right to go on a shoot otherwise you’re just another mouth to feed. (Yes it’s really that simple. On my last magazine the lunch budget was £10 a head so to take an intern on a shoot was costing us money when she could be in the office ‘doing the returns’). If you’re lucky enough to be invited on the shoot make yourself indispensable. Find out the day before what you’ll be expected to do. Some interns are expected to unpack and steam the clothes, but some fashion editors prefer their assistant to do that. There’s a lot of hanging around on shoots but that doesn’t mean switch off or read a magazine. You should be on alert at all times ready to leap into action. It’s actually very rare to meet an intern who does this but so nice when it happens. Never forget, whatever job you do, your job is to make your boss’s life easier.
All magazine offices are different but they’re all pretty hectic so there often isn’t a chance for idle chit-chat with the interns. Yet it’s important for you to find a moment to engage with your fashion editor as she’s your golden ticket to the next rung on the career ladder. A shoot is a good time to bond with her/him but pick your moment carefully. Good times to strike up conversation are at lunch or after the clothes have been sorted but while hair and make-up is still being done. Fashion editors love to talk about themselves but not when they’re rethinking the styling or fretting about the lighting. The good thing is, unless they’re extremely rude they’ll eventually reward some of your questions with questions about you. And this gives you the chance to connect with them and make that all-important impression.
As well as being efficient and indispensable it’s important to be memorable. If you’re only there for a month, there will be umpteen interns after you before that oh-so-elusive job vacancy arises, so make a lasting impression. If you’re a bit of a wallflower it’s essential to force yourself out of your shell and make conversation with people. Get to know the other interns (Teen Vogue has fifteen!) and people in other departments and make sure they all know your name. Offer to make tea and do the coffee run. Go the extra mile and I can guarantee they’ll love you for it. This is how I and all my assistants became successful in our careers. Talent does come into it, but it’s mostly about the hard workers.
Be warned that over-familiarity is a big no-no. Self-confidence is a great asset but if you’re an extrovert, try to read the mood of the office and be sensitive to people’s tones of voice and body-language. See if you can read their reactions to you and adapt your manner accordingly. Tip: some fashion editors don’t like to be given unsolicited advice or opinions.
Keep in touch
If you enjoyed your time at the magazine and got on with the team, make sure you keep in touch. Don’t forget, it’s a relatively small industry where everyone knows everyone and the best jobs are always filled by word of mouth. A post-internship thank-you card and bi-monthly email to say ‘how is everyone’ and pass on up-to-date contact info is always welcome. Don’t be a stalker though, magazine people are busy and however chummy, won’t have time to keep up a boomerang email correspondence.
To move on to the next internship or the next level of your career is all about contact building. Once you have a certain amount of experience I recommend contacting a few choice fashion editors to request some friendly face time. A letter or email (followed up by a phone-call) giving your experience and asking if you can take them for a coffee is all it takes. It won’t happen immediately so be prepared to send ten or twenty of these emails (not all to the same person). On the pretext of wanting some careers advice (remember, appeal to their ego) you can get an appointment with them, ask how they got where they are and then – the clincher – if they know anyone else you can see. If they like you, they’ll want to help you it’s as simple as that. The rest is down to you.