When I was a little girl, dreaming of what I'd be when I grew up, I assumed that a little hard work and determination would help me be successful in whatever field I chose. That would certainly be true had I chosen to be a doctor or a lawyer but as a writer in fashion I've found that's not always the case. Due to mass media interest and popular culture, hard work doesn't always pay off when your job is too fashionable for its own good.
Coming out of the Spring/Summer 2012 collections, journalists working in fashion have been through a month of 20-hour days with multiple midnight deadlines racing around the world to see the trends of next season in what is, by definition, a trade show. The problem is that everyone from celebrities to small town teenagers are captivated by the goings-on of this glamorous event that those trying to do their job have to work through hoards of hangers-on and entitled front row babies to get the information necessary to do their jobs. If fashion week was run like, say, a hospitality conference, with as little public inquiry, I'm sure we'd all come out of this month with a bit more sanity. Fashion has become too fashionable and the interest in the public has overshadowed the actual work involved.
As of late, national women's magazines have started giving away internships and assistant positions as prizes in sponsored contests. The plight of the unconnected aspiring writer is now so funny to them that they're using the opportunity to mine data from hundreds of would-be style bloggers, teenage dreamers, and Devil Wears Prada enthusiasts for their own gain. All they have to do in exchange is pay a young person minimum wage for a few months and have them pack up samples or transcribe interviews and come out with tweets blazing about what an amazing opportunity it was and how they learnt so much. The appearance of working in fashion has become more important than the realities of the job. Once you've interned at a fashion magazine, you've pretty much mastered the skills needed as a resident on the bottom rung of the industry; but instead of moving up the ladder like any other job, you're expected to do this unpaid for months, if not years, before even being considered worthy of a lowly editorial assistant position.
If you look any of the numerous fashion reality shows in the market today, they don't even try to hide the fact that hiring processes are arbitrary. Just a few weeks ago on the new season of The Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo in America, the celebrity stylist hired a new assistant with little to no relevant experience because he was a 'really hot' creative friend of her VP. The stylist even went so far to say, "I care more about the kind of person you are than what you can actually do."
Applying for a job in fashion is a time-sensitive and fickle endeavour. If you're not someone's daughter/son or a friend of the family, the chances of you getting an elusive paid internship are slim to none. Even dramatically over-qualified candidates are finding themselves jobless as an 'internal candidate' with little to no experience has managed to snag the job in question. This problem is not limited to journalists; designers now are also facing harsher scrutiny against their celebrity peers. There is something about fashion design that makes ordinary people believe that they can do it too, and better than those who have trained and worked for years to get where they are. Hardworking designers with actual training triumphed this season when amateur designer Kanye West's collection was given mediocre reviews, but that didn't stop him from monopolising the press for the week, taking PR value away from the career designers sharing the schedule.
We need to find a way to return to the days where the industry cared more about the quality of work than the appearance of being glamorous. Trying to get a job in fashion has become a lottery of sorts and it punishes the underdog.