Wednesday, February 10, 2010

THE BUSINESS OF FASHION








“The way fashion looks and the business of fashion are two totally different things.
98 percent of these people think they’re fashion people and then they find out that they’re not.
This is not dress up. 
This is not Barbie.”


I work in fashion PR, specifically VIP Relations. I get a lot of questions about my career, from people who love fashion, people who love celebrities, and people looking to break into the industry. So just for fun, here are the main questions I get, along with my answers, and hopefully you’ll find them interesting or even helpful to your own future!


What is VIP Relations?
VIP Relations is the team that maintains relationships within the entertainment industry. Why would we need these relationships? Because actors, musicians, and other celebrities are the ones wearing luxury on the red carpet, sitting in the front row at Fashion Week, and attending fashion parties. If a brand has a celebrity representing the brand by associating with the house, it projects a certain image to the public, thereby creating that desirability and driving sales. Each celebrity sends a different message and shapes the brand image of the house is associates with. For example, if a house wanted to position itself as classic and sophisticated, it might want Nicole Kidman to wear a look on the red carpet. If it wanted to come off as edgy and daring, it might want Lady Gaga to be seen watching its show. If it wanted to appeal to young, hip women, it might want Blake Lively to host its party.

How do celebrities influence a brand image?
The photos taken of celebrities make it into magazines, television, fashion sites, and blogs, shaping the way a brand is represented on a multi-media level. This exposure also serves as free advertising. A company can spend thousands of dollars on traditional print and commercial advertising (and it does!), but those advertisements are just the foundation of a brand image. Those ads tell the public how the company sees itself, but the image becomes much more powerful when the public can see the brand on a real person and form their own opinions. If a celebrity is wearing a brand during a particularly important moment, that image will be seen around the world for years to come, making that brand a salient part of fashion history forever. An example of this is when First Lady Michelle Obama cemented a place in history for designer Jason Wu when she wore his one-shoulder gown to the Inauguration Ball last year. The Inauguration was historic not just on a fashion and entertainment level, but indeed is obviously one of the most important moments in the history of the United States of America. But those gowns didn’t just magically fall onto those women. It came down to the work of those in the PR department.


So what work do you do to create those celebrity fashion moments?
We work with stylists to dress their celebrity clients for red carpet and other appearances. The stylist will call with a request for their client, telling us the event and the look they are going for. Most times the stylist will ask for specific looks from the runway collection, but sometimes they come to the showroom and pull looks from our press sample collection, which includes special looks not seen on the runway. Ideally, the stylist will confirm that their client is wearing our look ahead of time and we can prepare a press release. Usually, though, we don’t know if our look is being worn until we are glued to our TV watching Ryan Seacrest literally introduce the person live on the red carpet.

So it’s like The Rachel Zoe Project?
I haven’t seen very much of the show, but yes, that is the other side of my job. When you see Rachel and her associates making calls to "the PRs", pulling from showrooms, and picking up garment bags, that's us. 


Who is the coolest celebrity? Who is the biggest diva? The biggest bitch?
Nope, sorry! Manners, grace, and respect for others are so important in everyday life, and they are even more important in PR. Celebrities are just people, and when you work in the business of promoting them, you see their humanity underneath the illusion of fame. It is unprofessional to discuss public figures in their private moments, and is a kind of betrayal to the client and your company. Plus it is just not chic. The only thing I will say is this: Contrary to what one might assume, I have found that the more accomplished, successful, and famous a celebrity is, the more gracious and humble they are. When they aren’t that big of a deal, that’s when they try to act cool by being high maintenance and inconsiderate of others. I think this is very telling and a good life lesson for all of us.



Is your job like The Devil Wears Prada?
Well, I don’t work at a magazine, so the actual job is different, but I know what you mean. No, my bosses have not been the devil, and we don’t starve ourselves or get makeovers or anything like that. Everyone that I have worked with has been an absolute joy, and I feel lucky to have had amazing bosses that are inspirational and a lot of fun. That being said, the level of toughness of the job is very accurate. It is portrayed as abusive and ridiculous in the movie, but I think anyone who agrees with that needs to toughen up. There is pride and happiness to be found in working to exhaustion, and if you don’t find it, you probably aren’t working where your passion lies.

How did you get your foot in the door?
By being proactive and WORKING HARD, WORKING SELFLESSLY, and NEVER COMPLAINING.  That is how I got my first internship, and every position I have had came from that very first experience. I think innate passion is also is the key to success, because one can preach “work hard”, but when you are working at your passion, you work hard without even realizing it, and then success comes naturally.  During an alumni speaking engagement while I was in college, I happened over to the table of the Director of Entertainment Marketing for a luxury brand… and never left. I landed an internship with the company, stayed on for three times as long as I was supposed to, and was introduced to all of my subsequent employers through the position.




What was the internship like?
I was lucky, it wasn’t mindless copying and stapling. I hauled boxes of accessories weighing more than my whole body while on my Blackberry, ran down Melrose in five-inch heels with garment bags in one arm and four cups of coffee in the other, took calls from Paris, New York, and London while writing up consignments and assisting stylists in their pulls. I worked through lunch up to 18 hour days, I worked with 102 degree fevers, and I worked as many hours as the paid employees, all for free while taking a full class load. And I LOVED it. Because I loved it, I never complained, I never felt sorry for myself, I always jumped at the opportunity to do more, and tried to think of ways to make life easier on my boss.
How did it lead to your current position?
I never thought anyone noticed my work while I was interning, but it all paid off when my boss referred me to another amazing design house, which eventually lead to the position at the company I have now.



Any other advice?
I see many girls trying to break into the industry who seem to be under the false impression that this job is a perpetual cocktail party. Let me be clear, despite what it seems, fashion PR is probably the least glamorous job in the world. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those unwilling to work hard, make personal sacrifices, and do the grunt work. But with genuine passion, grace, and savvy, you can make it.
Photos: Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia via FGR

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