The Miseducation: What You Won’t Learn at FIT
For as long as I could remember, FIT was the only college I ever enthusiastically wanted to attend. Back when all I knew about college was that because of this “college” enigma Saved by the Bell might be canceled when they leave Bayside. Add that to my borderline unhealthy identity association with Lisa Turtle, whose dream was attending FIT; I pretty much had my post high school plans set by 10. I never wavered, and in 2001, I walked through the doors of FIT. Calvin Klein’s alma mater, the legendary training ground of countless American designers, Yale for every pretentious, overdressed girl (or boy) you went to high school with. This was heaven.
Stereotypes aside it actually did prove to be one of the richest learning experiences I could hope for. Needless to say, as is the case with many students at creative institutions, I thought four years was far too long to wait to be in the industry. While cutting a class (that I later discovered was a pretty essential course) I sat in the hallways between building B and C and decided I wanted to be a model agent. The next day I emailed every agency in New York offering to do anything from cleanup after hours to run their personal errands. Double speed fast forward 11 years later and I’m still at this game. A former mentor of mine said it was the masochist in me that kept me here. I do not disagree. I’m finally enough of a grown up to be able to look back and see what I’ve learned and let’s just say, expect to attend a brand new university when you graduate.
15 Things You Won’t Learn about Working in Fashion at FIT
- 80% of the players in fashion dress nothing like “clackers” at Runway magazine. The photographers, the account executives, the designers, the agents even the writers…dress pretty freaking common. I do what I can to keep the fantasy alive, but many of you will be highly disappointed when you interview at that production company and you’re not greeted by a woman in head to toe Raf Simons. There’s like a ton of J. Crew though.
- Be prepared not to be very important for very long. Not saying that will certainly be the case but fashion is a growth industry. It like new, it likes fast, it likes young. There’s new, hot kids and there are veterans. The bulk in between migrates through levels of acclaim. New skills are valued that never were before, new ownership takes over and changes everything, new positions are created. Look at all the jobs that exist in fashion that never did before. So just when you’re the hot new market editor, you find out they hired a Creative Social Media Director of Short Copy Editorial…and she’s amazing.
- Because of how easy it is to blur the lines of a career in fashion and your personal life, you will likely make some lifelong friends in the industry. There is a kinship with people who came in entry level at the same time. The photographer assistant is now shooting major editorials, his bridal apprentice friend now has a line being sold at Barneys, the junior account executive is now a Senior Publicist at a flashy firm. Everyone kind of grows up together. Nurture those relationships from day one, don’t spend all your time cozying up to the bosses…remember to foster the relationships with the kids at your level.
- People are going to think you make a lot more than you do for a long time and that’s going to make you feel like a pathetic poser but you will continue to encourage the facade. Many, not all, people in the business like to workout next to celebrities, they like to eat out at new trendy places with ironic names, they want to buy every product Miranda Kerr mentioned on Into the Gloss. Even if it means getting that 6th roommate. Many of the people under a certain age in this business can either barely afford their lifestyle and they make a whole separate career out of keeping up with the joneses. You go home after spending $23 on one drink and tell yourself “hey, fake it till you make it right?” and then your lights go out.
- You’re going to have a dramatic moment of introspection and get incredibly depressed about your life purpose. In my experience, there comes a point where many of us have this epiphany. Maybe its while catching up with your childhood friend who finds jobs for the homeless or raises scholarship money for orphaned teenagers…but at some point you will say “today I spent 3.5 hours talking about bangs. Should we get a model with bangs? doesn’t this photographer hate bangs? does it matter if they are sweep away bangs? Does Karlie still have bangs?” If you truly love what you do you will get past it, there is nothing more rewarding than giving all you’ve got to something you love and no one is stopping you from saving the world in your few minutes of spare time.
- The first promotion that gets you past assistant level is the day you become the most obnoxiously confident, driven person you know. There is no better feeling in all the world than coming into the office the day after you are no longer an assistant. Yes, you may be junior, associate, coordinator of something, you may still be in charge of signing for the FedEx packages, and your boss may still call you by the wrong name but dammit on this day…you are f*cking Beyonce. Wait for it.
- Attaining a good reputation takes approximately 7 times as long as it takes to attain a bad one. Word travels wicked fast when someone can be taken out of the race.
- Your identity is going to matter, craft it well. Fading into the background is not an option in this business. It’s not like other business where you can just do the job well. You have to bring a persona to the table, people need to be able to describe you as they would a character in a movie. This doesn’t mean you have to create some bogus character or that you have to wear something ridiculous every day for attention. Just be totally aware that you are telling a story whether you want to or not so make that story one that will benefit your future. That girl who got the promotion but doesn’t really do anything…maybe she’s the girl that committed 100% to her character and that character is the one the bosses want to represent the company. Know your audience (there always is one), know what you want them to say about you when you’re not around (they will talk anyway), have an idea what your end goal is (you should have one) and build yourself accordingly.
- Everyone in fashion is required to be a fortune teller. This business changes faster than most, again, its built on the concept of change and newness. Whether you work in design, marketing, talent, retail…you have to hone your ability to see the future. Even if you’re wrong about the direction its better than standing still. The only thing that never changes in fashion is the guarantee of change. When you feel strongly about where the business plan around it and speak up, always aim for being a visionary. Just ask all those marketing kids who, some years back, suggested that maybe the company should start sending clothes to bloggers.
- You’ll be in the fortunate and terrifying position of never having to wonder “is this the business for me?” Don’t fret…if its not…everyone else will jump at the chance to tell you. Its not that easy to just float in fashion mindlessly, never fully sure if you’re apt for it. Your confidence is going to take a lot of hits, you’re going to do a lot of work for a very little for longer than you expected to, you’re going to have to explain exactly what you do to your parents, you’re going to be in a competitive environment 24 hours a day (if you leave the office at 6 you can trust someone left at 7 just because). If you get through all that and still cannot believe you’re lucky enough to have your job…you’re probably in the right place.
So, yes its hard, its a bit of a never ending identity crisis but its also one of the most global, exciting, creative, fascinating industries to be involved in. Here’s to you, your bright future and your lifelong matrimony with coffee. You got this.