Sometimes revealing the raw reality of something we hold close to our hearts can be difficult. It can be so grim that at times we mask the truth with illogical excuses whilst consciously choosing to shred our self-esteem to satisfy our situations.
The revelation of a reality on a personal level can serve as a reminder of broken dreams and on a professional level it can function as a cue to reflect on the fact that financial dependence sometimes prevents you from unraveling the truth.
At the end of my Masters a few years ago, I turned down an impressive internship with A F Vandevorst, a luxury clothing brand based in Antwerp, Belgium at the request of my mother. It was one that would have placed me in the middle of the fashion business before social media accelerated the industry’s exhaustion.
I suppose that my constant anxiousness to jump on the next available opportunity was a reflex developed over time after desperation took residence within me. So, a few weeks ago when I received an email from the brand Emilia Wickstead confirming me as a Wholesale Showroom Assistant during Paris Fashion Week, I took it immediately without question. I didn’t mind sharing a hostel room with five other girls in order to stay in Paris and engage in long work days that went way above the call of duty. Somehow, the reality that it was finally happening overshadowed logical interests and concerns.
Growing up I had heard the popular expressions like no pain no gain and where there is a will there is a way. So, allowing the unnecessary now for the necessary later felt like a natural process to me. Well, until I felt less like myself.
The thought that your dreams can become reality if you work hard is comforting and while this may be true for most people and in many industries, the fashion industry’s typical success story seems misrepresented and distorted for almost everyone involved these days.
A week in Paris interning for Emilia Wickstead’s Wholesale showroom meant dressing in-house models, merchandising, assisting during sales and client appointments, general showroom coordination/set up and running general errands. I was happy to do all of it but without the reality of feeling dehumanized for the sake of gaining experience. The ability to ignore the grotesque truth in the industry is often overpowered by its self-preserving fantasy illusion. The clout that these brands carry sometimes has the power to silence you with a single picture of a major figure in their clothes. In this case it was Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
You begin to think that the basic decency of handing you a dress in your hand or placing it on in surface close by is unnecessary. Perhaps because I was new, I felt my worth was to pick up clothes off the floor because a senior was too elite to spare a second. I felt that stretching myself thin where I worked my way through a miserable cold for half day was necessary as it proved that I was a bit better than their interns in London who were openly classified as “good for nothing but packing suitcases”. It was easy to remove my dignity and self-worth for some strange reason.
I came back to La Baule in deep confusion. I felt soulless but still compelled to be happy because by extension I was still connected to something that I dreamed about. However taxing my duties and realities were, they weren’t half as mentally and physically exhausting as the in-house models, which made me realize that it really isn’t about being entry level, but rather about bending anyone who stands in the way of the brand’s image and potential sales. One model fell into my arms in tears from over exhaustion after working consecutively for individual buyers. She complained of blistered skin after trying the collection on repeatedly for clients and in the end, said she felt like a mannequin. She still carried on though quite frankly because this is the culture and ability of this particular industry. It feeds off your self-esteem and ego and it is human nature to want to feel good about yourself at the mercy of someone else. While I don’t think such actions will cease overnight, the question is, where do we draw the line when realizing our dreams infringes on basic human dignity and respect. Is it even possible for fashion, especially for smaller players? I feel, too, like much of the hype behind the industry is magnified and amplified because we live in a digital world that forces everyone to want to be part of it. Maybe it’s time to discover new dreams and develop a new structure that considers how we do things both for the brand and the people who form part of it.