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In September of 2011, Jimmy Choo finally retired from his atelier boutique. It was the first internship I ever had at 16 and I still remember how nervous I was to take my first step into the fashion industry. I had read all the articles on advice for newbie interns, collected every edition of UK Vogue since I was 13 and knew that choosing a career in fashion meant I had to work hard without appreciation. However, that wasn’t the case at this store. I had the freedom to watch the cobbler work on one- of- a- kind pairs of shoes whilst organising their extensive exotic leathers collection. I sketched portraits of Jimmy when he was free, assisted his PA with PR materials and got involved with the day-to-day activities. The only difference is that here, ‘everyday’ is full of Swarovski beads, orchids, courier deliveries and invitations to luxe events in the form of ballet shoes.
Working at Jimmy Choo Couture was like being among family, the staff would cook and share their lunches and family friends (often fellow designers, artists or celebrities) would stop by to say hello. There is so much warmth and familiarity that prospers in a place the brand himself is incredibly involved and hands- on. It was also the most unrealistic standard to keep when it came to future internships. These are the three most important things I learnt from one of the most exciting experiences of my teenage life along with some advice for fashion interns:
1. People only give you chances when you’re young
I caught onto that pretty quickly, just from hearing the anecdotes of how the older staff got where they were. Looking back at it now, I think that they had it easier than us millennials. Although the recruitment and internship process in the fashion world hasn’t evolved much from near slave labour, hard work and talent might have meant something more years ago. At risk of sounding too cynical, it’s become a lot more about who you know and critically, how close you are to your contacts than what skills you have. That kind of thing is saved for the doctors and accountants among us. When you’re young you’re not seen as a threat to anyone, so honing your talents early and really focusing on what you want as soon as you have an idea is critical in this industry.
2. Embrace the bitch work, it’ll give you practical skills
So many people are afraid of doing ‘bitch work’, you know, like making coffee and tea or running errands. Strangely enough I actually love making tea. One of the activities I was tasked with was buying supplies for the cobbler, which taught me the layout of London and where all the best haberdasheries were in the city (Berwick Street, in case you were wondering). I remember running up and down Oxford Street, breaking out in a nervous sweat because remember, when I was 16 years old there was no real smartphone or Google Maps app. I learnt how to navigate the fashion hotspots of my city really quickly, although I did lose some sleep over it.
3. Never take kindness for granted
This is one thing I’ve never consciously done. To take the kindness of others, especially in a work environment, particularly in the fashion industry, is to be a self-entitled bitch. There were so many stories thrown around almost all the companies that I interned at about difficult interns. These were people that felt they had the right to work there and they didn’t appreciate it when someone tried to give them constructive criticism. It’s hard to be discerning in a cut-throat environment but you’ll know if someone is trying to be kind by how warm they are and how much they try to help you with opportunities. Don’t forget those people, even after you leave your internship. Not only will it make you confident that you did something right along the way that someone senior would try to help you but it will keep you optimistic that you have a valuable contact. In some ways, hope itself is more important than concrete advice for fashion interns.