Intern Diaries: Notes from the Fashion Underground is a column that goes straight to the source of the fashion industry--the free labor. In this column, anonymous interns tell all about their terrible bosses and entitled coworkers as they endure ridiculous tasks which include, but are not limited to, fetching dry-cleaning, going on coffee runs and acting as a substitute nanny. This week's intern is a male college graduate working at a high-end brand in New York City.
The sheen of sweat causes my shirt to cling to my body. I'm wearing my Monday best- a navy Jil Sander shirt, Ralph Lauren Black Label trousers, and my Barneys wingtips. As always, the walk to the subway, and the subsequent ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan exhausts me before I even get to work.
12:30 p.m. Even scampering around the office has become monotonous. The endless typing, Excel sheets, sample pick ups is getting to be too much. It is the exact opposite of my loose, creative, liberal arts education I’ve just completed. Congratulations to me. The extent to which I feel my brain dulling is scary. Must start reading in my free time.
12:45 To alleviate some of the boredom, I tidy up the kitchen and shared space . It’s become a habit of mine in recent weeks. Who knew I went to college to become a cleaner? I don’t mind it, though, cleaning up reminds me of home. My father and I would spend days reorganizing the house when my mom wasn't home. I miss living in my peaceful, airy beachfront house on a coast three thousand miles away.
1:30 Still cleaning. This is way different than home: the kitchen and lounge area are cramped. Just like the rest of the office, they are plush, but grey. And natural light? Forget about it. I guess we're not in Cali anymore.
1:35 One of the advantages of cleaning: eavesdropping. It also allows me to be centrally located and talk to the rest of the office (the intern room, by contrast, is off in a dark corner where we can be neither seen or heard).
1:45 The staff seems generally grateful for my efforts. Maybe they will hire me as a janitor? Still though, there are those who work here who seem to have some sort of problem with everything we do: one woman gave me a lecture about not spraying Windex within fifteen feet of her, lest it touch her food and give her cancer (that, by the way, was my extremely polite paraphrasing of what she said at the time).
2:00 Doing dishes. Funnily enough, the entire staff (even the ones who gripe) has gotten so used to my almost hourly janitorial service that they’ve forgotten that it’s not actually in our job description. And they’ve taken to telling the other interns, in no uncertain terms, that we are now all expected to do it. Whoops.
3:15 One of the other interns makes their first appearance of the day in our office (before you run off crying “intern abuse!”, hear this). The other interns are unlike any people I’ve ever met before. They are very smart and we’re all nice to each other. We’ve all gotten over the initial sense of competition and are now helping each other to get through this situation that we thought would be so glamorous and turned out to involve a lot of confused bosses who would rather blame us than own up to their mistakes. I love them all and couldn’t get through a day without them. That being said, I don’t think they’ve ever worked a day in their lives, and they have the attitude to prove it. I work at a very high end brand with a lot of name recognition, and, just like the line in The Devil Wears Prada that pops up throughout the film, I’ve been told “a million girls would kill for this job” many times. I was fully expecting my fellow interns to be somewhat affluent and edgy. But instead of Emily Blunt, I got an heiress of sorts and a few trust fund babies.
4:15 Late arriving intern makes an early departure. Surprise, surprise.
I'm on the late side today, and don't really have time to plan out an outfit. I throw on a grey striped YSL shirt and run out of the house. It takes me till 14th Street-Union Square to realize that in my rush, I autopiloted into my extremely beat up sneakers. This probably won't go over well at the office. Hopefully I can scrounge up some loafers from last season that have gone unnoticed for months.
10:43 a.m. A prime example of the privilege of the interns: All of us are sitting in our intern room. I’m juggling three binders, filing finance reports and tracking shipments; two of the others are on the computer, updating what’s missing and what’s back in the office; two are manning the office email account.
11:00 “So...what are you guys going to do if this whole publicity thing doesn’t work out?” asks T, the only son of a very wealthy banking family. One by one they go around.
11:02 The heiress (I now call her the heiress because of this) is actually the daughter of someone who has a huge housewares empire abroad and she can take it over any time. The most fashionable intern (who I get along with best--something about being gay and sardonic, I guess) can take over his father’s very successful engineering company. T was given three houses in various cities in the South on his eighteenth birthday and may sell them, move to Paris, and do nothing for a while. The rest follow up with equally advantaged plans.
11:15 To my great chagrin (for myself, for the industry I want to break into, for society), I realize I’m the only one who actually needs to work. I’m the only whose parents struggle, the only one who seems to have gotten here by merit, instead of, I suspect, by knowing the right people.
11:45 Continue having an existential crisis as the other interns complain about, what I consider to be, standard intern work. They’re fine with filing and updating the spreadsheets, but they seriously freak out if asked to do anything that requires moving (by this I truly mean any kind of movement), cleaning or fetching. If asked to pack something up, or walk the half a block to Fedex, they balk. For the first three weeks I was the only one willing to go anywhere, get anything, or fix anything. It made me feel subtly different. Like was a laborer, a pleb to the other interns. It made office life difficult when several of these tasks had to be done at once. Luckily, my bosses noticed it, were equally perplexed by their behavior and lectured the others about their reluctance to help. I still do most of these tasks.
12:30 p.m. Guess who gets to drop off packages? Lucky me. Yet another reason why I want to leave this internship.
I may as well try to make up for the being late and unkempt yesterday. I planned this morning, and everything goes together well: Lanvin, Acne, Balenciaga, Prada; blazer, shirt, tie, trouser. A mix of pinks and grays and black that go together very nicely. And to boot, it's not scorchingly hot or humid. Things are looking up today.
4:45 p.m. Receive new email:
Can we please bring the round box with the built in ribbon to the office? It’s for a celebrity, so it has to be this exact box.
4:50 I’m bored, and it should require getting up on the step-stool (a no-no for the others), so I run to do it. There’s only one round box with a built-in ribbon. I grab it and go to J’s office. “That’s not the box.” I rack my brain, thinking about what other box it could be. “But J,” I say “there’s only one round box in the entire office. It’s either this, or we don’t have any.”
“That’s impossible. It’s round, has the ribbon, and is big. I’ll show you the picture.” I walk around see the screen of J’s computer. Lo and behold, the picture is of the box that I’m currently holding.
“See J, this is the box. They’re identical. The dimensions are the same.”
“But,” J says, getting visibly miffed, “this is not the box I asked you for. Go look again. I know we have it.”
Now I’m the miffed one. I look around more thoroughly, but I already know what’s in that closet. There are, of course, no more round boxes. How am I going to convince my boss, who already has working eyes, that this box and the box in the picture are one in the same? I walk in, this time with a tape measure in hand. I tell her I measured the box, and the dimensions are the same. She grabs the tool from me and measures it herself.
“This isn’t the box. Let me look through the binders.” Having shot me down once more, she pulls out an insanely large binder, with nothing but pictures of boxes with lists of their dimensions. She turns to page one. I’m beginning to believe I’m in the Twilight Zone, and the absurdity of this situation is so frustrating, yet so funny, that I bite my lip to stifle the cackle that I can feel building in my lungs. Luckily for both of us, J gets bored of looking through the binder. Frustrated and unwilling to continue, she looks at me, smiles, and demurres: “Fine. I’ll take a chance and trust you on this one.” I have to leave her office fast, so she doesn’t hear my wild laughter.
6:30 It’s time to leave for the day. I call my father and sigh, wondering what I will say about my day, how I’ll make myself sound more enthused so they will feel good about my choices. It’s not so much that this internship is awful. I like the people, other interns and boss, despite everything. I think, honestly, that no one prepared me for the reality of working in this field. From the outside it seems as if everyone in the industry is doing something creative, but the reality is that by and large it seems to be administration, management, and drudgery. So I’ll probably continue with the internship for a few more months, hoping that it will parlay into a job that, if not more creative, is at least more paid.
Are you a fashion intern? Interested in contributing? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.