Once, Anna Wintour made eye contact with me and I almost peed.
That’s the story I tell when people ask me what I do “on the job." In one month, I will be headed back to Manhattan for my fifth season interning at New York Fashion Week. As always, I am hesitant to tell those around me where I’m really going for those seven February days, for fear of being pinned a “humble-bragger,” or receiving endless coos of unjust admiration and jealousy. When I tell people I’m working Fashion Week, they seem to overlook the “working” part entirely, so I just give them what I know they want — juicy little anecdotes without any substance, like my lackluster Wintour encounter. In the eyes of many of my friends, I’ll be skipping school this February to attend a star-studded affair in Manhattan. Though they aren’t technically wrong, a few key aspects of my work at NYFW consistently go unnoticed.
I pay my own way. I spend my own money on my own flights to my own unpaid job. I have worked other jobs, saved money from gifts and sold my old clothes so that I can accommodate my internships. I am not asking for pity — I come from an upper-middle-class family where money has never been an issue, and therefore have the rare opportunity to pursue ventures that involve little-to-no pay. Rather, I am trying to shed light on an industry that outsiders (and even some insiders) view as full of unrestrained glamour and drama. From my vantage point, it’s easy to see that fashion is full of humility. It is a universe populated by everyone from artists to models to production specialists. No matter their trade, each individual is controlled by a select few corporate giants, generally underpaid unless they manage to make it big.
Be it New York, London, Milan or Paris, Fashion Week sucks the life out of everyone involved. No matter their job, anyone who has ever worked a Fashion Week could tell you that it is a grueling seven days, both physically and mentally. Though I have worked two very different jobs over the course of my NYFW career — social media correspondent for a modeling agency and celebrity escort for a backstage lounge — each left me with a maximum of four hours of sleep a night and a brutal cold by the end of the week. Not even the most beautiful models are exempt from the ubiquitous Fashion Week eye bags (I always joke that mine are Prada). Emergen-C tablets are given out at every venue like souvenirs. Each of us works vigorously in hopes of fulfilling traditionally unrealistic deadlines. All the while, we must elicit stylishness, our faces blotted and our outfits impeccably chic, to ensure that bystanders view Fashion Week as the elitist affair it pretends to be. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but that doesn’t make the fashion industry any less invested and, subsequently, overworked.
Save for Us Weekly, nobody tells you that stars truly are just like us, even during NYFW. In fact, affiliated publications likely don’t want you to know how “normal” many celebrities are despite their circumstances. After all, media outlets receive most of their Fashion Week related traction from celebrities who use their online platforms to create a covetable facade of a life. In September of 2016, headlines noted that Kylie Jenner sat front row at Prabal Gurung’s show, but failed to mention that she was likely being paid to attend, another shift of her extremely well-rewarded, yet never-ending job. Season after season, blogger Leandra Medine of Man Repeller is regularly featured in magazines’s “street style” broadcasts, yet none show the young businesswoman hurriedly jetting from show to show, taking rushed sips of Blue Bottle coffee (a NYFW staple — ask anybody) as though she fears her cup will run away. The same principle reigns when applied to celebrities’s most down-to-earth behaviors. When Jenna Lyons, creative director and president of J. Crew, asked for a photo with a lowly intern (i.e. me) after a show at Milk Studios, not one reporter took notice. Like many other human beings, Lyons did not feel comfortable having solo shots taken that day, and instead opted to use me as a means of diverting the spotlight, if even for a moment. That kind of raw humanity does not jive well with the image of Lyons contrived by the media — intimidatingly stern and all business — and so they simply left it out. In the most frank of terms, envy and fear make New York Fashion Week profitable.
It’s true — Anna Wintour is scary, and capable of evoking involuntary bodily functions. But New York Fashion Week is more than a brush with fame, or even clothes on a runway. It is practically its own being, layered with great and poor qualities alike. It jerks real tears out of its victims, but always winds up giving them some of the most memorable experiences of their lives. That — you know I had to end this way — is something that will never go out of style.