Fashion magazines are fueled by large-scale photo shoots, features with high-profile celebrities and reporting on events on the red carpet. Much of this is possible with the team on site: the fashion assistants. These assistants call and organize all the products, which are then put on talent for these events or cover shoots. The product – clothing, accessories, shoes, fine and fashion jewelry and extras – is located in a fashion closet near the fashion department. It is common for the closet to be the smallest room in the office. Fashion assistants and interns have to create puzzles to make sure everything fits and are organized so that the stylist can make spontaneous runs or visual representations of the upcoming shots.
When I was a fashion assistant, I remember being blocked by trend boards, racks, and trunks for outgoing recordings, which made it difficult to communicate with the other fashion assistant in the room. That was the norm – just part of what we went through to become editors. I have often questioned the system and wondered if it made us fail. Additional space or storage space and a slimmer calendar would definitely have made life a little easier.
When COVID-19 arrived and continued to make itself felt, the glossy images had to adapt. Fashion magazines publish content during the corona virus, but at what price for their employees – especially for the fashion assistants who now run the show from their bedrooms? Some magazines have so many items of clothing that one assistant houses suitcases or extras while another wears the runway look. A friend of mine, who works in a popular magazine and lives in the same building as her boyfriend, has slept with him in the past few weeks because the shelves have taken over her small studio apartment in New York City.
To get a comprehensive overview of life as a fashion assistant in a pandemic, I contacted three fashion assistants: one who works for a newspaper, one fashion assistant for a men’s publication and one freelance fashion assistant for men’s and women’s publications. All assistants have chosen to remain anonymous. For this story, I refer to the newspaper employee as Ashley, the men's clothing assistant as Jane, and the freelance assistant as Sebastian.
While working from home, she takes it one day at a time and understands that a closet from her bedroom is "only related to the job" in 2020.
The rise of the pop-up closet
With the amount of volume that goes in and out of a fashion closet, systems must be in place. Many publications track all examples or elements for photo shoots using a photo system. As soon as an article arrives, a photo is taken and cataloged in a computer as a "check-in" photo under the respective photo. When objects leave the cupboard – for a photo shoot or to return to the sender – they are photographed again and marked in the filing system as a "check-out" photo.
In a perfect world, all the items that were sent for a shoot would come in, be photographed, go through a pass, be packed for the shoot, return to the closet to make sure everything was taken into account, and then back to the brands they made having sent. However, if multiple shots are taken at the same time and an item has not been used for a past shot, it will be "transferred" which will extend its life in the cabinet.
"I hate the word" transfer ". It's the worst word in fashion," said Sebastian. "At the end of the day, you want to make a full return. As soon as something comes in from a photo shoot, your mentality is like: OK, that'll leave my house, I won't have to worry about it. It's all done," he explained to me as he looked around his apartment for a large shelf labeled "Transfer". "But then they transfer it to another shoot, and you think, crap, I'm only going half a return now, and now I have to sit with all this product longer."
"I get over 50 packages or garment bags a day – I think it would be weird if I wasn't overwhelmed," Ashley told me as she talked about how she rationalized her feelings. She likes fashion and it was a nice change to see her first hand in her house. While working from home, she takes it one day at a time and understands that a closet from her bedroom is "only related to the job" in 2020.
Take work home
Fashion assistants are used to long hours and often show up at 4 p.m. to prepare for a photo shoot and stay after 7 p.m. on the days an issue is closed. Usually, long days come with a paid dinner, a prepaid drive home, a happy hour with your staff, or a nice night at home where you can relax. The problem with fashion assistants who run a fashion closet from their bedroom is only that it's in your bedroom. There is no separation, no perks and no work-life balance.
"It's really hard to find the mood when your house is busy. How, where's the zen?" Jane told me when I gave her FaceTimed while eating a sandwich in the only open room in her kitchen.
"The only problem I have in four months is to learn how to delegate when I do something and when I don't because so many rehearsals come out of my apartment," said Sebastian. Like many assistants, he is flooded with products and coordinates large-scale projects.
"It's really hard to find the mood when your house is busy. How, where's the zen?" Jane told me when I gave her FaceTimed while eating a sandwich in the only open room in her kitchen. How do you create boundaries when your manager knows that you have the tools you need at all times?
Fashion assistants are on their own
Most fashion publications have a fashion assistant that covers all categories: clothing, jeans, jewelry (fine and costume), shoes, extras and accessories. For publications with a larger budget – and space – you will see several assistants or at least one for clothing and one for accessories.
Much of my success in the fashion closet was thanks to the interns and freelancers who helped me. When we work on a cover shoot, we often have between 16 and 30 cloakroom trolleys that are filled to the brim with products to be sent for a photo shoot. In order to pack the trucks, all clothing had to be stowed in garment bags, all hats in hat boxes, all delicates in bubble wrap and all shoes and the rest of the accessories in plastic poly bags. You would then seal the suitcases, and if you were lucky, a courier would pick you up at the freight. If it was after 7 p.m. – the time the cargo was closed – you would have to drag all 30 suitcases in multiple elevators out of the lobby building into the Van des Kuriers.
"They cover one direction, and then I cover the other direction of the team budget," Sebastian told me when he explained the logistics for receiving and returning samples. "I also had to buy a printer," he added. To send samples back outside of New York, he rushed to FedEx or UPS before they were closed to make sure the packages arrived on time. The printer is now helping him optimize his day: "It is easier for me to organize FedEx collections than to hand them in daily. Now I can print the shipping labels. This saves hours of my day."
"I get emails all day," Ashley said when I heard her tap the receiver. "It feels more intense than in the office." For Ashley, she is the newspaper's only assistant and responsible for two editors. She often feels that much of her day is spent telling her bosses about her progress, although this rarely varies from day to day. She would prefer to spend time organizing her shelves and making sure everything is ready to be shipped. She dreamed of supporting her interns and said, "I never knew how good I was."
Employees can no longer recognize work that they have not done
We all had or have one employee who creeps through and does less work than the rest of us, but since it is a team effort, they also get the praise. The fashion assistants I spoke to agreed that the biggest plus of life outside of the office is the long-awaited awards for a job well done. "I've been with the company for two years," said Jane. "Now that you know how good I am, I hope to be promoted after my return."
Every publication forms relationships with fashion houses; In this way, they can receive products for their recordings and strictly protect these relationships. Multiple returns or late returns, damage to fragile items, and disrespectful attitudes can end these relationships. However, if a brand speaks highly of you in the magazine, that's all. It makes all the hard work and drama worth it. "It's really great to hear," Sebastian said, considering an email that a Louis Vuitton representative applauded. "If the brands thank you, it shows the magazine that you know what you are doing, which is crucial for me as a freelance assistant."
Nevertheless, there is significant pressure that these assistants are exposed to. "There is no room for error when the samples arrive at your home," Jane said to me as she yearned for the help and extra eyes she had in the closet to prevent the product from being lost. "It's not like you go into a fashion closet and it's been a week or two and an item is being transferred to another shoot. When you transfer it you may not know where it is, but you do know it will come back "But now it's in my home, and if it's missing or misplaced, it's on my head," she said.
Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Anonymous