Work for peanuts if it means you get to mix with the right people. This is not to say you’re not earning any money at all, it just means until you’re raking in the fashion pounds, you’re going to have to say goodbye to your evening plans and hone your skills waiting tables. Get over that ego honey, roll up those sleeves and get your hands dirty. You want to work in fashion but don’t have a healthy allowance to subsidize your life? Then don that apron and no complaints!
In my earliest days in the fashion industry, I would work for nothing (no longer legal, thank goodness) during the day, then head to my bar job in the evenings. There was always a product launch, magazine party or gathering I wanted to attend (seldom invited, but that was never going to stop me), so after work I would switch my sneakers for stilettos and find the nearest and fastest route on public transport to get me to the event. Public transport there, taxi home, that was the rule.
To aid your rise through the ranks, assist a fashion name, actor or someone connected to the industry. You think it’s impossible to land one of these jobs? Nothing’s impossible! If you go looking for these jobs and are confident and persistent, it really isn't that tricky to convince people of your worth.
If you land a role working with one of the leading names in the industry, you will soon find yourself booking into the Dorchester - laden down with your bosses 12 Louis Vuitton cases of course, but that really isn’t the point. You’re IN. Befriend the concierge, the receptionist, the porter - everyone deserves one of your winning smiles. It’s surprising how far people will go to help you in the future if you are a delight to be around - and you never know where they will end up when you're both working your way through the ranks.
When working for these high profile names, be fully prepared to sacrifice your own life for a while. It won’t be forever and will be worth every 16-hour day you’ll be expected to work. Think of the bigger picture, the long run, the life that will soon be yours if you curb the complaining and keep that smile firmly in place!
How to land that job
Whether you have a degree in design or just a cleverly worded CV, one of the best routes to get you through the door is as an assistant.
Tell whoever will listen that you’re looking to work in the fashion industry. The editor of your favourite magazine may have told the guy who, unbeknown to you, serves you both morning coffee that they were looking for the perfect PA. There’s always a way in, you just need to be open to finding that way. Don’t expect it to be easy, but never forget the people you look up to and aspire to work for are just people – and at the beginning of their career, they had to start somewhere too!
Sometimes it pays to be persistent (otherwise known as mildly annoying). One of my favourite assistants – and by far the most hard working and competent person I know – somehow found my email and would contact me periodically asking if I had any shoots approaching that she could assist on. Her persistence paid off; my regular assistant couldn’t make one of my shoot dates, so I called Miss Persistent and she was IN. From that day on, I was never without her on a shoot (and she became Miss Saved My Arse on more than one occasion.)
Scour the right sources for assistant adverts. These ads are usually listed in the sections of recruitment websites, on the site of the company you want to work for and national newspapers. Although the ads will seldom specify who the exact employer is if they're high profile, a non-specific ad that requires you to have previous experience working for directors or designers and are prepared to work long hours are always a good bet.
Complete a short course and gain general PA skills. Seriously. For some reason that still remains a mystery to me, I had, of my own will, completed an advanced PA course at evening classes while at college. I have never regretted putting in this overtime to study. During my years as a PA, I was able to organise even the most flappable fashionista and the tech qualifications aided me well when producing shoots later in my career.