Confessions of a fashion intern: My not-so “Devil Wears Prada” experience

9 July 2015

fashion intern experience

It was mid-April 2014. Sitting in an oversized, white leather chair on the second floor of a lofty building in North York, Toronto, I stared nervously at the white marble table in front of me. It featured a beautiful vase of flowers and a stack of fashion magazines titled ELLE Canada. I sifted through the pages of last month’s issue thinking to myself, how on earth did I get here?

Being an overly introverted 20-year old from North-Western Ontario with little to no experience in the publication or fashion industry, I figured that my chances of making a lasting impression and actually landing this internship position were slim to none. I had been rejected for three other possible summer internships in Toronto, and ELLE Canada was my last hope at staying in the city for the next four months, rather than returning to the bleak small-town of Thunder Bay that I call home. As I sat patiently waiting to be interviewed, taking deep breaths in-between nervous hot flashes, I pictured what my interviewer would look like. What designer would she be wearing? What trend? How old would she be? Would she like my outfit choice? Would she even be a she? Visions of fashion editor stereotypes depicted in The Devil Wears Prada – and everywhere else for that matter – came to mind. I pictured a slim, young woman dressed head-to-toe in this season’s most coveted runway looks, with a look of supremacy on her face as she stared back at my feeble attempt at a trendy, yet office-appropriate spring ensemble. I pictured a woman with a hectic lifestyle, too important and busy to crack a smile or engage in meaningless small talk with someone as irrelevant to the industry as myself. I pictured a glamorous office decorated with racks of designer clothing straight off the runway, while editors hustled around getting their jobs done.

In the midst of my anxious thoughts and attempts at continued breathing, two women, a tall blonde and a petite brunette, entered the secretary’s office where I had been waiting for one long, painful hour. Being the nervous, awkward individual that I am, I stood up and hastily introduced myself, pretty much unaware of the words that were leaving my mouth. Over all of the worries circulating through my brain, all I could tell myself in that moment was that how I conduct myself in the next few minutes could determine my career opportunities, and ultimately, the rest of my life. This was my chance to make things happen for myself, and break into the tough fashion industry that heavily concerns itself with what colours are “in” for autumn, and what Kim Kardashian will wear for her next red carpet appearance.

The two women quietly introduced themselves, and led me to a large boardroom on the fifth floor known as “The Zipper”. As we walked I examined the outfits of the two interviewers. The tall blonde was more under-dressed than I had expected a woman working in fashion would be. She wore a simply fitted black knit sweater, blue skinny jeans and flats, breaking the ‘no-denim-in-the-office’ fashion-girl stereotype. The petite brunette, and fashion features editor (A.K.A woman with my dream job), donned an edgy black leather jacket, sky-high stilettos, and a chic black mesh skater skirt. Aside from being awe-struck by this woman’s ability to put an outfit together, I was quite intimidated. What didn’t help was that once we arrived at this so-called “Zipper”, filled with nothing but one large, round table and about 15 chairs, I became flooded with even more fear than I had already been experiencing for the past hour. This was everything I feared it would be, I thought to myself, embracing the interrogation period that would come next. “Why the web-editorial position?” one editor eventually asked, with an emphasis on web.

I can’t quite recall every individual question asked of me that day, due to the fact that my brain seems to have erased all memory as a result of my nervousness. But I do recall the way not one, but TWO very important members of the industry stared at me as I attempted to answer each of their questions with confidence and ease. Although the women turned out to be friendlier than I had expected, I can’t explain the relief I felt upon exiting 25 Sheppard Ave. that day. I also couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction with myself. I had broken out of my timid shell and found a reason to exhibit this passionate, enthusiastic version of myself for the thing that I wanted most for my future career. Now it was time to wait.

After almost one month of anticipation, a couple of follow-up e-mails, and living in Toronto without a purpose, I began to give up hope. My mornings consisted of hopelessly dragging my finger down to refresh the iPhone e-mail app, impatiently waiting for a reply that did not come until exactly one month prior to my interview. Driving downtown one day, I decided to engage in the illegal activity that is texting, checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and e-mails while driving, when to my surprise, I saw an e-mail with the subject line: ELLE Canada Interview. Without hesitation, I opened the e-mail and read, “Hi Paige! Sorry for the late reply, I have been away on vacation for the past few weeks. We’d love to offer you the web-editorial internship position, can you start Tuesday?” Without even a thought in my mind, I replied back accepting the position with the most enthusiasm I’ve ever displayed in my 20 years of being alive.

For those of you who, like me, dream of breaking into the fashion publication industry, know that internships along the way are crucial. Believe it or not, no classroom education could offer the experience needed to succeed in fashion’s fast-paced, cut-throat workplace settings. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about landing that first, most coveted internship, it’s that genuine passion and enthusiasm go a long way. Yes, skills are important, but attitude is key, as skills can easily be developed with experience and the help of co-workers. Success comes from bona fide enthusiasm for what you do, and having a sense of curiosity and passion for the business will separate you from the pack. So smile, ask questions and don’t be afraid to let the interviewer know how bad you want it. Oh, and when it comes to looking the part, go for office-appropriate conservative with a hint of trendy to prove that you’re an avid reader of fashion news.

If there’s one thing my present self could tell my past self, it would be the small piece of information I’ve just communicated. “Office-appropriate conservative with a hint of trendy”. This would have saved me countless hours spent looking in the mirror the night before the first day of my internship, with the goal of finding the perfect outfit to impress the fashion experts. And when I say countless hours, I mean literally three hours that could have been spent on more important things, like for example, sleeping.

Morning approached quickly, and I was off on the subway to my first day at ELLE, playing it safe in an oversized black blazer, white tank, two-toned black and white pants, and a dramatic statement necklace. I arrived at the office, feeling a sense of déjà vu as the nervous hot flashes took over my body once again. Upon telling the secretary that I had arrived, she informed me that my director was out of the office and had potentially forgotten that it was my first day. Isn’t it funny how something so important to me, could slip someone else’s mind so easily? Actually not really, because the amount of embarrassment I felt after that was equivalent to falling down a set of stairs in public and trying to act nonchalant as you swiftly walk away from the scene.

The rest of my first day didn’t get any better. It seemed as though I was in fact playing up the part of the awkward Anne Hathaway who couldn’t handle the outrageous tasks of demanding editor-in-chief, Meryl Streep. First off, I was asked to source images for celebrities who looked like animals for entertaining web content. After showing one of the web editors my comparison of Taylor Swift to a cat, and Jennifer Lawrence to a donkey, she didn’t seem too impressed. The whole idea was called off and I spent the remainder of my day pretending I knew how to work Photoshop. I left the office feeling pretty down on myself, wondering if this was all worth it.

As the first week went by, I continued to feel out of place in the one place I felt I would fit right in. I began to question my future goals, and wonder if this was really the industry for me. It seems appropriate to lend myself, and others, a piece of advice in this moment. It sounds cliché, but don’t give up so easily, because good things happen over time, and skills need to be developed. Persistence is critical in advancing these skills, and ultimately getting what you desire. Aside from feeling like I didn’t belong where I passionately wanted to be, I started to feel alone in the city. Despite having a number of friends living in Toronto, I wasn’t used to the distance and effort it actually took to see them. I was a 2-hour plane ride away from my family, and the comfort of my own home, and many times I deeply considered moving back.

My feelings of discomfort in this unfamiliar city, with these unfamiliar faces began to change one day when I received my very own desk space, next to two other interns around my age. We quickly bonded over our love of the delicious cupcakes, macaroons, and other sweet treats that consistently circulated around the office, and over our love of fashion, of course. The loneliness began to subside as I got to know how friendly and welcoming all the editors actually were, and I realized that I had two other interns to swoon over the high-fashion products with as they came through the office. I’ll never forget how awe-struck we became after laying our eyes on a perfectly embellished velvet Dolce & Gabbana clutch that was sent in to be photographed for the magazine, or that time a pair of pink metallic knee-high Chanel sneakers was sent in from New York straight off of supermodel Cara Delevingne’s feet. I received a break from simply looking at these artistic clothes when I was given my first major responsibility: A fashion article based on the comeback of the Canadian-tuxedo to be published on I sourced all images, edited them and wrote content for the first time, without the help or suggestion of the professionals. What seemed like such a large task at the time became part of one of my daily duties.

Between weekly meetings, transcribing celebrity interviews, re-decorating the fashion closet, attending trend events, and setting up for beauty sales, I had the satisfaction of seeing my name not only on as a fashion editor, but in the masthead of the magazine as well. Knowing that people all over the country were reading my articles, and viewing my work was one of the most rewarding parts of my internship experience. Monday morning meetings and contributions to the content of the magazine made myself and the other interns finally feel as though we were part of the official ELLE team, and not just some replaceable, seasonal workers.

The moment I officially knew that this was my dream job was the moment I overheard a conversation between two of the editors from across the room. The first woman discussed the trip to Australia she had just arrived back from where she interviewed famous supermodel Miranda Kerr, describing every aspect of her personality. The second editor reacted as though this were no big deal, just a typical day of work, and continued to discuss the trip to Milan Fashion Week she would be taking the next day. It baffled me how taking trips overseas, meeting up with celebrities, and reporting on the latest celebrity gossip could actually be a legitimate job, but I wanted every part of it. Unfortunately, the closest I got to a celebrity through my experience was transcribing an interview between one of the fashion editors and Olivia Palermo. Aside from learning of Olivia’s tips for “upgrading your life,” I also learned critical interviewing techniques that will benefit me when I am the one to be conducting these celebrity interviews.

Just when I thought my “job” couldn’t get any better, myself and the other interns were invited to an end-of-summer trend report event held by ELLE Canada. Although we hadn’t been asked to perform any impossible, Devil Wears Prada-like tasks such as, retrieve the unpublished manuscript of the upcoming Harry Potter novel, this event seemed to be one straight out of the movie. The room was a dimly lit hall covered in hip artwork and creative designs. Attendees came dressed in head-to-toe fashion show wear, to enjoy a night of sipping on wine while becoming informed of Fall 2014’s hottest hair, make-up and fashion trends. And unlike any stereotypical interns, rather than work hard and run around to keep the event together, we were able to focus on networking while sipping on white wine like the rest of the guests.

As the summer eventually came to a close, and the last week of my internship rolled around, I began to reflect upon the things I learned from the whole experience. Despite the glamourous trips and opportunities that come along with working for a fashion magazine, it isn’t always all cupcakes and cashmere. There are times you may question your ability to do a job, times you will embarrass yourself in front of someone of a superior position, times you will be criticized, and times when you will double up on work in order to meet a specific deadline. There is really never a dull moment in the fashion industry, and you never know what tasks a new day will bring. That’s where the importance of being genuinely passionate about the work you do comes in, and you are bound to find happiness in what you do. I have learned that people in the industry are not all cold-hearted, and most of them are there to help guide you along the way to your goals. My last day consisted of a baking party with more than enough cupcakes, macaroons, and brownies to go around. I also received a card from the editors, thanking me for my hard work throughout the summer, and a gift bag filled with beauty products #ELLEperks. I guess I had lived to tell the tale of my not-so Devil Wear’s Prada experience.

In the words of the ELLE editors themselves: “Be curious, be willing to learn, seize any opportunity that arises, never complain, work hard, keep smiling, go the extra-mile, read as many magazines as you can get your hands on” (And don’t be afraid to check out the renovated ELLE fashion closet for interior decorating inspiration).

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More about Paige Exell

Fashion & beauty writer, lipstick enthusiast, lover of all things beautiful, constantly on the lookout for what's new and what's cool.