What the movies don’t tell you

I’ve no idea who started it but there is some kind of myth that working on a magazine is glamorous. Some people seriously think that fashion editors spend their lives gliding around offices swathed in Marni and Chloe layers, having their hair zhuzhed up by Guido Palau and yapping orders to their long-suffering fashion assistants. A friend of mine once told me he wanted to become an assistant because he literally imagined it would be a simple matter of passing things to his boss. ‘I thought it would be like we’d go on a shoot and Sally-Anne would say “Bruce, please can you pass me that hanger”, and I would hand it to her and that would be ‘assisting”, he revealed sheepishly. This is what happens when you have too many TV shows and movies set in the fashion magazine industry. People think it’s all about the Starbucks coffee and the Christian Louboutin statement stilettos.

This is the busiest time of year for working in a fashion department on a magazine. Firstly, the fashion editors are finalising details for their Big Summer Trip, the overseas shoot. This involves not only booking photographers, models, hair and make-up teams and production companies (not all magazines have bookings editors to take care of this tedious aspect of the job), but liaising with said production company (which is often in a different time zone) to start sourcing appropriate locations and props for the various shoots and booking everyone’s flights and hotels. The Big Summer Trip happens immediately after New Year so everything needs to be done and dusted as much as possible before Christmas as most PRs and model agencies shut up shop for the duration. This all needs to be juggled at the same time as getting in the last few samples which make up the final pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is a fashion shoot. Inevitably, it’s only at the eleventh hour that everything starts to gel and the real creativity starts flowing. You decide that the one thing you need that will really make this shoot sing is a vintage sailor hat and you have to have it. Now.

Did I mention the carnet? Oh lordy Lord. I don’t know who came up with this wretched idea but when you are shooting abroad you need to have a document called a carnet which is a typed, detailed list of all the clothes, accessories and other accoutrements you are taking so that the customs people know you are not smuggling the stuff abroad to flog. Not only does the list have to be perfectly typed with no mistakes (if there are any, it gets sent back and you have to do it again), each item has to be numbered on the list, with a corresponding numbered sticker attached to the garment. Readers, when you are taking five trunks of clothes abroad it takes forever. And guess what makes the job even harder? When everything is arranged in just the right order on the rails next to your desk, you can guarantee one of the freelance subs will casually waft past and start flicking through one of the rails as if in an exotic bazaar. “Ooh, are these floral kaftans in the shops now?” No, they’re spring-summer, that’s why we shoot the pictures abroad and not here. “How much are they?” They’re not for sale, this isn’t a shop. ‘Have you got a cardigan I can borrow? I’m a bit cold and I’ve forgotten mine. Can I wear this Stella one?” Every magazine office does actually have an ‘office cardigan’ but it’s usually a forgotten, no-label misshapen thing from a catalogue, not a pristine next-season cashmere offering by Stella McCartney.

For some reason, people think that fashion editors aren’t really doing proper work and that their ‘tools’ are just for show. So the clothes rail becomes a useful piece of furniture for random staff to plonk their coats on while the ‘fashion cupboard’ (not literally a cupboard, more a small, tardis-like room with lots of shelves and rails) becomes their personal changing room. Having said that, the fashion cupboard does come in very handy in an all-women environment. Rather than fleeing to the loos for a weep when someone’s having an emotional moment, they tend to run to the fashion cupboard which is a tad more private. The cupboard is also a good place for sharing office gossip and making confidential calls (yes, there’s a phone in there as well). At this time of year though, the fashion editor also has the office party to contend with. While she’s doing battle with the carnet and juggling the figures (oh yes, I forgot to mention she is also in charge of a multi-thousand pound shoot budget), pandemonium is breaking out around her. People are draping their little black dresses all over the place, leaving the iron and hair-straighteners in non-health-and-safety-approved areas and wrestling for space in front of the mirror. And there’s always someone who insists on leaving their used make-up remover wipes discarded on the floor afterwards. How nice.

So yes, there are perks to the job and although it’s not all free Louboutins, you might get a Kurt Geiger discount card (not valid on sale items) and get first dibs on unidentifiable catalogue samples that have been left languishing in the cupboard. You can drink as much Starbucks coffee as you like, but you usually have to fetch it yourself and as for the free trips abroad, indeed they are very lovely but you have the responsibility of looking after the team and ensuring the smooth running of the trip and making sure it comes in under budget.

So…still want to be a fashion editor?

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19 Responses to What the movies don’t tell you

  1. Bojana says:

    Hah, thanks for clearing that out.

    I’ve always dreamed about being a fashion editor but after thinking, I realized that , maybe once I got into it, I just wouldn’t like it anymore and get sick of it.

    And there is a lot of nasty stuff behing the glitz and the glitter…thanks for clearing that out.

    Finally, making my own magazine for myself on my bedroom floor doesn’t seem so bad after all. Why ask for more? hah


    thank you for this brilliant story. it feels funny and tragic at the same time. can hardly imagine lucinda chambers or emmanuelle alt rocking the hangers.

  3. Blue Floppy Hat says:

    Yeowch…it all sounds berserk. But part of the magic, to me, lies in that very madness- it wouldn’t be quite the same if a magazine ran itself like a law firm (which are pretty berserk places too…believe me).
    That said, it does sound like headache pills would come in handy when you’re on the job..

  4. Allure says:

    Very clearyfing. But I still want to be a fashion editor. My aim it is not to receive freebies and all that. I just love the world of fashion and I would love to work at it. I know it must be tough at times, but at the end it must worth it.

  5. Rollergirl says:

    Oh totally Allure, I’m not knocking the job at all, just poking fun at how some people expect it to be. But of course, it’s creative and exciting and all in all a pretty great job at the end of the day :)

    Bojanam making magazines on your bedroom floor is the best!

    Blue Floppy Hat – it’s a mad job for mad people – you’d love it!!

  6. Chic and Charming says:

    It does sound stressful! I do, however, wish I had a closet full of clothes to run to when I was feeling really upset at work. Even if it was a disaster, I would probably find it very soothing.

  7. dressedandpressed says:

    Sorry rollergirl, I still can find no sympathy. We all have stressfull jobs, with colleagues that drive us crazy and a workload that could kill several donkeys. But most of us don’t get to do it in quite the same stylish surroundings doing stuff we truly have a passion for. And perks. You’ve definitely got the better end of the deal here.

  8. Elisabeth says:

    I actually have a friend (well, more of a friend of a friend) who works for British ‘Glamour’ magazine.

    She’s only a secretary to someone who doesn’t have massive sway with the magazine, but she’s explained the stress to me when I have wished for a job there!!!

  9. Ondo Lady says:

    What a hilarious insight into the world of fashion journalism. I love your take on it but funnily enough it has never been a role that appealed to me.

  10. Claire (Enchant and Doom) says:

    ‘Have you got a cardigan I can borrow? I’m a bit cold and I’ve forgotten mine.’

    HAHAHAHAHAHA… So funny, because it’s so true.

  11. Mrs Fashion says:

    This post is giving me palpitations!

  12. Anonymous says:

    What a FANTASTIC post!!! Whilst it is totally not the same, I get a similar response when I tell people I’m a designer. They think it’s all drawing pretty pictures and going to galleries for inspiration, when it’s actually juggling both client and studio budgets worth thousands of pounds (and if the clients’ job goes tits up it’s on MY head), trying in the nicest possible way to tell the client that they have absolutely NO taste and that their ideas are beyond appalling, all whilst looking suitably ‘designer like’ so the client sees they are paying top dollar for someone “creative”! I feel your pain!

    Queen Michelle

  13. Libertygirl says:

    You’re giving me hives. Fortunately I only do a Big Trip twice a year (when I pop my stylists’ hat back on from where it languishes under the bed during the rest of the writing year) and my assistant is a dream. (And very gd at hefting the coffins* round airports whilst I waft around duty free – Just joking, DUH!).

    * the extra big suitcases we pack the carnet-ed clothes in.

  14. Ana says:

    yes i still want to be a fashion editor. but great post.

  15. a. says:

    of course, i do! ;]

    great post, otherwise.

  16. atelier says:

    Really great post. I am studying journalism and my aim is to work in a fashion mag, I had previously imagined it wasn’t as in the films, but nobody every told me how it was really, so thanks a lot;)!

  17. WendyB says:

    Good post. Everything looks glamorous from a distance but never so much closeup. Definitely applies to non fashion journalism and jewelry. I’ve been glad that I haven’t had to deal with traveling with jewelry due to the whole carnet thing.

  18. Ugly Hetty says:

    Loving your blog. I’m new to the fashion world and am still so mystified by it all. My previous life as an Entertainment journo was sooo much more glam. Anyway, I’ve started my own blog (http://therealuglybetty.blogspot.com/) as I try to make sense of this strange world – it’s nice to know someone else out there is demystifying the whole process as well. Will be adding your blog to my list!

  19. Cheryl says:

    Love this! Reminds me of back when I was interning for a teen magazine and I had to do all these odd jobs, and all my friends thought that all I had to do was pick clothes for shoots and occasionally file stuff. Working in publishing is stressful, but it was fun while it lasted.

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