I always knew I wanted to write -- and more specifically -- for a magazine. My dad is a travel journalist, and before that he edited newspapers, so from a young age I saw the excitement, passion and fun involved with creating something from scratch. Using words to entertain, inform and paint a vivid picture, molding everything into a finished article. Work experience. Work experience. Work experience. Those golden words that everyone advised. So at 16, I shadowed somebody at Conde Nast Traveller magazine for a few days, and never looked back. Stints during school holidays followed at the Financial Times' "How to Spend It" supplement, at a now-defunct foodie publication, at Brides, at Red... anywhere that would take me. The week I finished my degree in English Lit, I started at Elle for a six-month internship. It was there that my love for writing doubled-up into a love for style and fashion too. Yup, you make the tea, you photocopy, you run to Starbucks, you transcribe interviews. But every now and again, there are moments that remind you why fought so hard to get there, giving you the boost to keep going for it. An editor will give you the time of day and you'll cling on to that advice as if your life depended on it (for me, that was Lorraine Candy, the editor of UK Elle who happened to start the same day I did).
Then another time, I was let loose at London Fashion Week, to report backstage at a the show of a new, young designer named Giles Deacon. I got my pad and pen out and interviewed Erin O'Connor. When I told her afterwards it was my first ever interview, she gave me a hug and we're still in touch today. I remember the lovely travel editor Sue Ward-Davies, telling me I could come and assist her that weekend down in Cornwall, to cover designer Alice Temperley's annual summer sleepover party. Alice takes over her parent's farm with the most stylish, bohemian bash you've ever sees. Lamas and horses wandered around the fields as supermodels (Naomi, Jodie Kidd, Jacquetta Wheeler) lounged in bedouin tents sipping cocktails. Fireworks were set off at mid-night and everybody jumped in the lake. I felt like I was in a colour version of La Dolce Vita.
I could go on and on, but the point is, getting your foot I the door and not losing site of your goals and staying inspired, is crucial and worth it. After five months at Elle, I was offered my first paid opportunity, over at In Style. A few more magazine positions and some styling jobs later, my editor at the time was asked to appear on BBC news, talking about wedding dresses. She was too nervous to go, and asked me to do it. I'd never, ever thought about doing TV before, but I gave it a shot, shaking all the way through the segment. That same day, a producer who had watched called me, and asked if I'd like to try out for a new fashion program. The rest is history! Here are my top tips on how to break into the fashion industry:
1. Start early.
Apply for work experience while you're still at High School, write for the school newspaper -- the quicker you get into the habit of writing and building up your contacts in the industry, the better.
2. Be proactive
When I was applying for internships, people often asked if I had work published, which was almost impossible without having a job (chicken and egg scenario). But nowadays, it's simple to start a blog, style your own shoot, report from the images you find of fashion week, the Oscars. Showing initiative, independence and thinking outside the box, counts for a lot.
3. Get your resume sorted
Think about how many hundreds are sent to magazines every week. On average, yours will be read for 20 seconds before being disregarded in the trash or put in the pile for consideration. Not to scare you! But you see my point: it's worth spending time to make your resume stand out. Some editors like CV's on paper, others via email. Be safe and send both, keeping it no longer than one page. Keep any information pre-age 18 VERY brief (ie. they wont really look at high school grades), and embolden the brand names you've worked for down the center of the page. Don't over-clutter with lengthy descriptions. Never attach a photo, that's cheesy. Grades and majors tend not to be as important as extra-curricular activity and other work experience, which proves your love for fashion. Don't stretch the truth -- the fashion industry is too small and if you haven't worked somewhere you say you did -- they'll find out in a nanosecond. Your cover letter or email should be brief; a couple of short paragraphs is fine. Try to strike that fine balance between selling yourself, and coming off as overbearing. It's a good thing to state that you're motivated, inspired and hard working.
Read as much as you can -- know the magazine you're applying to cover-to-cover, think of interesting ideas for certain sections and don't be afraid to voice them if asked. Follow a mix of fashion peeps on Twitter, read the reviews on Style.com or wherever your favorite writers are. Be prepped for questions like, "Who are your favorite designers? Why?" and "What were your favorite shows and trends this season? Why?"
Be polite, but also relax. The editor might seem scary, but smiling and having the odd joke will make it clear you're not threatened by the situation, and it'll also show you're a pleasant character to have around the office all day, every day. Friendliness is valued in offices, so having a good vibe about you will serve you well! Don't forget to say how much you want the job. Not in a needy way, but you'd be surprised how many candidates don't seem as keen for the position as they perhaps should be.
6. What to Wear
This really varies, depending where you're interviewing. Ponder it for yourself -- some designers' studios and fashion PR firms are very casual, eclectic, even eccentric -- so go as wild as you like. But some magazines and brands are much more formal and elegant. Big Italian houses such as Armani, for example, tend to have their workers wearing mainly black, looking super chic. I hate saying this, but you WILL be judged by your appearance, so plan your look in advance and if it's somewhere mega-chic, pay for that blow-dry, repaint your nails and borrow your mum's/mate's designer handbag for the day. Personally, I always opted for a chic, well-fitted bright or printed dress, high patent closed-toe heels, and a simple cream or taupe bag.
7. Fix things
Interns who problem-solve quietly and confidently, are worth their weight in gold. Editors and bosses don't usually have time to fiddle with the computer or printer when it's going wrong. Anticipating their needs, getting things done without asking too many questions, is brilliant. Also, brush up on your social media, it's a huge part of progress in the industry today, and take a course in Photoshop and web design if you can. Knowing about all sections of the office, not just your own, will come in handy.
8. If you're at fashion or journalism school, remember the brightest ideas and thoughts often come from your classmates.
So keep your ears open and think as a team, not as competitors. You'll all end up rubbing shoulders along the journey -- some of my best mates now are successful writers and stylists -- and we all started off interning together, surfing on friend's couches and earning a pittance!
9. Keep in touch
Collect business cards from those you work with, it's crucial to stay in touch so that when a job does come up, you're top of mine. Make friends with other departments in the office too, you may end up being offered something in a completely different direction, and end up loving it.
Don't get embroiled in office politics, even if at the time it feels great to joining the cool gang. I remember my mum warning me to look out for the "office bitch" on my first day of work. I was shocked, but she was right: There's usually one. Hold your head high, keep smiling, come in early, stay late, don't moan about doing menial tasks, and try to soak up as much of the information you see around you: From the way influential people in the industry dress, negotiate, write, conduct business, it's all stuff you'll use in later life.
P.S. And when you do make it as a big-shot, don't forget the people who helped you make it! Always remember how and where you started, and try to help other aspiring interns or trainees do the same.
Follow Louise Roe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@LouiseRoe