the i-D guide to getting ahead in fashion

Brush up your CV, spellcheck your blog, head for the Capital, dress up, go out and be prepared to work your arse off. i-D's handy guide for securing the fashion career of your dreams tells it like it is.

by James Anderson
03 June 2014, 2:00pm

The i-D One Issue, No. 1, 1980

Make no mistake, fashion feeds off the energy, ideas, enthusiasm and generally wrinkle-free attractiveness of young people. Without regular infusions of new blood, the whole merry-go-round would gradually grind to a halt because many older protagonists quite possibly haven't had any good ideas since 97 and are terrified of looking out of touch. So, if you have a job interview, don't allow it to be a fearful interrogation. Instead use it as an opportunity to confidently divulge information about all the stuff you know about and love, the stuff that they won't know about - from obscure new bands whose instruments include broken zimmer frames and a harp, to designers from Berlin making clothes out of twigs and old Spice Girls CD's, or hush-hush club nights staged in a derelict launderette in Leytonstone and little-troubled by anyone over the age of 23. This knowledge is your power. (If you don't actually have this knowledge, just make it up - they will be inclined to believe it, anyway, because they probably fancy you.)

If the fashion big time is what you are aiming for, then you need a CV that reads well, looks sharps - get it designed professionally if you're crap at graphics - and which emphasises relevant information about your talents. Make sure you have spell-checked it to within an inch of its life. Don't pretend to have worked as a design assistant to Tom Ford if your real experience was actually a Saturday job flogging knickers down the local market. Also, if you are going to approach a designer or editor with a view to working for them, for fuck's sake get their name right - or expect to see your doomed CV and covering letter posted and cackled-about by all 'n' sundry on Facebook.

If you relish creative freedom and want to convey a unique point of view without constraint. After all, unlike more established publications, you need not worry at this stage in the proceedings about offending big-name advertisers. Being critical, witty and smart will inevitably get you noticed and hired. Being bland, or gushing about boring PR-driven stuff won't.

Unless you have something original to say about fashion and can string a sentence together. Ripping off or paraphrasing the work of more experienced fashion wordsmiths is pointless - potential employers won't be impressed.

Staying in and watching telly is a waste of your teens and twenties. Going out a lot to clubs, parties, shop openings and private views and getting to know as many people as possible who have any tenuous connection to the fashion biz will reap rewards further down the line. You can catch up on sleep and Eastenders in a few decades' time.

There is nothing wrong with blagging or a bit of artful bullshit, but if you are deep down a mainstream Primark queen then it is somewhat pointless to try and get a job working for a designer so avant garde that they only eat blue food. If you like commercial stuff, then embrace this and seek out employment which will allow you to call everyone 'babez' and wear your fake tan and on-trend bargains with pride. If the high street-obvious makes you hurl, however, then find your niche and turn your non-compromising stance into an achingly fashionable job that you and only you can do.

A great sense of style can get you a long way. Those whom follow their instincts and dress in a memorable and individual way will find the gateways to employment more likely to swing open, because attitude and confidence are always highly valued in this industry.

Whether you want to be a fashion designer, editor, writer, PR, stylist or consultant, the common link is that these professions are all seen as glamorous and desirable. Competition for related jobs is therefore fiercer than one of RuPaul's wigs. Develop a thick skin, be bloody-minded and be prepared to try and try again if your first attempts to secure employment should fail. Try not to be too bitter about the fact that there will always be some lucky fucker, who you believe to be totally untalented, who gets an amazing job with apparent ease. This very rarely happens.

No matter how many pleasant qualities other parts of the UK might play host to, the fashion industry is based in the Capital and if you want to clamber into its upper, or even lower, echelons you need to pack your bag and get the fuck here. As the saying goes, 'you've got to be in it to win it'. Innit? So, those who can cope with a few initial years of living in over-priced shit flats, while having virtually no money, will be ultimately better placed to bag the fashion gig they want.

While the populist notions about a career in fashion suggest a mere whiff of work cushioned by endless shopping sprees, guzzling champagne in the back of a limousine and going to parties with Dolce & Gabbana's hairdresser, the reality is a lot of graft, many late nights, often not much sleep, people freaking out and bursting into tears from exhaustion, not to mention the joy of ever-looming deadlines. This is why designers barely have the strength to take a bow at the end of their shows. And this is why you can - if you are patient, bloody minded, talented and willing to throw yourself into every task with unbridled gusto - end up earning a lot of money while indulging your creative whims. Then you can go shopping all the time, if you so wish.

With employment laws being increasingly (and rightly) tightened regarding unpaid internships, and lawsuits being launched by disgruntled students whom feel they have been exploited by wealthy publishing companies, the fashion industry has been forced to acknowledge the thorny issue of young people working for free. Until quite recently, it was not uncommon for unpaid work placements to last for months on end, which is clearly a massive piss take on behalf of the employer. However, short bursts of first hand learning-on-the-job - a couple of weeks maximum, ideally, at a few different companies, even if the only financial reward is a daily travel card - will put you at a massive advantage over your contemporaries who can't be arsed. Think of this as an investment in your own future.

It is misguided to assume that a degree in a fashion-related subject will in itself be a guarantee of a fashion-related job at the end of three year's toil. Academic study is important - offering a prolonged opportunity to research, practise, develop your skills, refine your ideas and identify an area of specialist interest in an envionment which should be supportive and inspiring. However, this needs to be enhanced by bursts of real industry experience, making contacts and undertaking self initiated adventures - whether that's launching your own magazine, unleashing your own design label, promoting club nights, curating exhibitions, or simply existing as a style icon-about town. 


Text James Anderson

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