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Saturday, 13 March 2010

Looking Back


I don’t think I could to be a student again – back in the old day’s in the early 1990’s I was studying Fashion at Art School based in Epsom. I don’t think I ever spent much time actually on-site – it was located in a funny area across the way from the mental hospital (now closed). Lee McQueen had graduated two years ahead of me. Come the madness of London Fashion Week – we would all descend to South Kensington to the Natural History Museum trying to blag a ticket to get into the shows. 


My peers would show off how they had dinner with the Editor of ‘The Face’ magazine – the talk around the table was how it would go bust after losing the libel case with Jason Donovan calling him gay.Grunge was all over the airwaves, Kurt Cobain heralded as a musical genius – Marc Jacobs was vilified at Perry Ellis for his take on grunge wear.

So sad, Cobain/McQueen now dearly departed, The Face folded and Jason Donovan only surfaced in those irritating Iceland ads during X-factor. But Marc is still here and is relevant as ever.

It was another time another place – looking back it seemed like madness after leaving school to study ‘fashion’ – so elitist and fantastical. Well I did it and I would love to go back to my school careers advisor and say I told you so (in the job tests they gave me I scored well to become a driving instructor or a lawyer). Mmm took me 4 attempts to pass my driving test!


After spending the summer doing lots of un-paid work experience and taken under the wings of a brilliant Fashion Editor 'J'. I actually managed to get a real properly paid job the same year I graduated - no mean feat as the country was in a recession. It was for a women’s weekly magazine – readership was over 1 million a week but the Fashion department consisted of just the Fashion Editor and me, the assistant, two tables and a big cupboard where all the samples were kept under lock and key. My computer, a Mac, was the size of a shoe box with the tiniest black and white screen. My salary was £10K pa, my brother’s first job when he graduated a year later was £25K but he studied IT and the rise of the dot.com boom.

My income was supplemented by working as an evening chambermaid at a 5* hotel, the same place Billy Wyman married Mandy Smith. More recently an aide working for a member of the Saudi family was bashed to death there! 

There was some highs to the job, shooting Summer wear in Miami and Negril, Jamaica whilst England was in the depths of winter. But it must have been the loneliest time of my life – I only ever went out with work people - all women or gay men. No chance to ever meet a straight man, have a relationship – single the whole time, I was a fashion widow!

I had the Fashion Editor from hell as my boss. She had a lot of problems maintaining relationships, divorced with 3 kids, oldest got pregnant at 16, second daughter was bullied at school about it and youngest son was a little bit wet. I felt like I was a relationship counsellor and she treated me like her fourth child. During Press launches we would go out but not stand too close together if we had turned up in similar outfits. Her in Joseph and me in Top Shop. The goody bags and freebies I used to give away to my twin sister who was a student nurse. She tells me later I was a nightmare Fash Hag – my biggest put down to her would be ‘that’s so laasssst season darling’. Yes I was a bit of a cow and then some.

My flatmate was studying an MA at St. Martins and sold a pair of trousers to Christopher Bailey, now head of Burberry's. I used to pop in to borrow outfits for shoots to get my portfolio together. I once ran in to John Galliano who had a 'cold' and was sniffing a lot. Sweet guy, helping out the students for their final shows. I saw Stella McCartney's Final year show (my flatmate was in the year below her), Naomi Campbell modelled one outfit, did a quick strut and blink you would have missed her. I much preferred Phoebe Philo's work. 


Fast forward a few years I eventually become a freelance Stylist but I got trapped into working for weekly magazine and could never progress to work for a glossy monthly. These were the days before Grazia, and there was a strict hierarchy in the PR world so I could never get the better samples loaned to me. The nicest people who lent me loads was C&A (again sadly no longer on the high st) but I guess the readership of the mags I worked for reflected their budgets. Its not like nowadays where you take pride in telling people the price of your latest Primark purchase. A lot of the mags I worked for no longer exist - not that I was a jinx but publications come and go and its all down to circulation figures and making money. Publishing is a loss making business!


One memorable shoot I did was a make-over feature using 'Petite' women, real people who had written into the mag wanting a make-over. I must have done such a great job making them look normal and not vertically challenged; the Editor dropped the feature! Another shoot I did for a big gossip mag featuring Tara Palma-Tomkinson, was the worst paid job I ever did. I think it barely covered my travel expense.The better paid shoots were for NoW but I really hated working in Wapping. I think my passion for the job started to wane when I realised I wasn't getting any job satisfaction, never get onto the property ladder with my meager earnings, never have a boyfriend. My mum never really got what I did - even though I tried to explain - I tell people what to buy to make them look good. But then again she never really understood what my brother did either - 'he's into computers'. 


I spent a year out trying to find myself, took a holiday - did lots of flaky evening classes, Shiatsu, Reflexology, Aromatherapy. I ended up temping to make ends meet and accidently fell into TV production work. Then a brand new chapter happened in my life; I met a man (eventually married him), I started to get involved in my production job - I took great delight eating in the BBC staff canteen with Jeremy Paxman over looking the Blue Peter Garden. Life just seemed to be more fun again rather than a chore/bore. I have no regrets about leaving the fashion world, it was something I had to explore in my youth otherwise I would have lived with the regret of 'what if'. 

7 comments:

  1. What a great post! Thanks for sharing this personal information, nice to feel that I know you a bit better.

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  2. Hi there-wow, what an amazing post and lifestyle you led, it sure sounds like you met a lot of diverse and interesting people and had some awesome experiences, thanks for sharing!!

    Regarding my boot sale purchases, I've been lucky in that the boot sales I go to, I don't need to haggle-more rummage for the better quality pieces that get overlooked I think!!

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  3. Wow.....You know that line in Jerry McGuire when she says "You had me at Hello". Well, you had me with your first post I've read!

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  4. Ah, thanks for sharing your path! It all sounds scarily familiar - the fashion world. I enjoy it but only because I keep it at arms length...anymore and it sucks you dry!

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  5. What an interesting life you've led & interesting people you've met!

    Thanks for sharing - and have a great week.

    XOXO LOLA:)

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  6. What a great story! Reading things like this makes me contemplate my own path - thanks for sharing!

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  7. Ah, been there, done that... and that... and that! I think the colleges really need to get (and PAY) people like us to go in and tell the students the reality of working in fashion. As you say, it's so common to get pidgeonholed and the money is really not much for the hours we put in. Unless you get to Katie Grand-a-day level of course. So yes, you really have to want it. Great post x

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Be nice and kind - only comments you would be happy for your gran/mum/daughter to read. Thank you