I moved to London to be a fashion journalist
The only route to success in the industry is to slog it out as an intern for as long as it takes...
Lisa McCann: ‘A highly competitive industry, getting your first proper job as a fashion journalist can be dependent on your willingness to stay on the intern merry-go-round until that elusive position comes along.’
It’s 11am. I am interning at the Dazed offices on Old Street in London and have just uploaded a piece on the photographer Viviane Sassen. An email appears in my inbox from Alex, the editor: he wants 200 words on a track by Torn Hawk. He needs the copy “ASAP PLEASE”. Em, who is Torn Hawk, I ask myself? And I’m now an expert on his music? This was not in the intern handbook.
I had begun to associate “the internship” with a mixture of emotions. Terror, exhilaration, exhaustion and joy; I experienced them all while coping with the vast spectrum of tasks listed under the so-called job spec. You must be prepared for anything. In order to become a “formidable force” in the fashion industry, one must wear the term “intern” with pride. For as long as it takes. This is the only route to success.
I moved from Ireland to London two years ago to do a master’s in fashion journalism. A city applauded for its creativity, this was the obvious choice. Chaotic with fresh design talent, exhibitions, concept stores, stores devoted to the biannual magazine, super stylists, Alexa Chung, Susie Bubble, Alice Goddard; London had it all. A city with an edge. A city next door to mine.
My tutor at the London College of Fashion gave me two important pieces of advice: you either have what it takes to be a journalist or you don’t, and celebrities you interview are not your friends. I discovered the industry’s new bible, The Gentlewoman (one of Ireland’s favourite exports, Saoirse Ronan is this month’s cover star), a fashion identity of sorts (mainly involving socks and sandals), and a group of close friends that would make my time in London vibrant.
I rented a small flat in Kentish Town with two friends from college and slowly adjusted to the sheer vastness of London; the dusty, tiled corridors of the tube, the grey leaden skies above, the exaggerated chaos that is Oxford Circus, the niggling feeling that you still haven’t seen the real city.
It can appear overwhelming and lonely at times. Friends are scattered sporadically across the city, and the commute to see them can seem too exhausting sometimes to contemplate. Often a night in with The Great British Bake Off is a more attractive alternative. Yet, making the effort to get off your couch is crucial. Your life in London depends on it.
A few weeks of applying over and over again after my master’s led to a features internship at The Sunday Times Style, a magazine I had read religiously since the age of 15. I was dying to catch a glimpse of the elusive Camilla Long; her sarcasm and wit was legendary. But she doesn’t actually work in the office (although I did send mail to her house once).
I spent many happy hours transcribing interviews with models like Liberty Ross and Erin O’Connor, and the illustrator David Downton, gathering relevant news clippings and making coffee for the (slightly terrifying) editor. I was hooked. This was where I was supposed to be. If only it lasted more than two weeks.
I figured a fashion internship at a weekly style magazine couldn’t hurt. I had directed two shoots for my master’s magazine, Saoirse, and felt I had plenty of experience. It turned out experience wasn’t necessary or relevant. On the first day, I was introduced to my new home: the fashion cupboard or “the dungeon”. I was to spend three months there, along with copious clothing samples, another intern, masking tape, designs by Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane and Chanel, and no natural light.
At times, the fashion team forgot we existed. The bags hid us from view, until we appeared at the top of the stairs, crippled by suitcases and rails and frantic questions. The feeling of panic and dread if something appeared to be missing became too familiar.
My next stop was a digital internship at Dazed & Confused Magazine. It was unlike anywhere I had worked before, brimming with creativity. The founder and creative director Jefferson Hack would stride through the expansive open-plan office on his way to a meeting, and I would strain my ears to catch any pearls of wisdom. It was electric.
On my second day, I was asked to write a piece on the photographer Carrie Mae Weems for Dazed Digital. I felt I had been sleepwalking up to that point. For the month that followed, I thought about nothing else. My desk was beside an Irish girl who would offer me tea and biscuits when I seemed about to have a meltdown. Most days it felt like I was going through an early form of menopause. I considered buying a fan. I loved every minute of it.
Supposedly, your stint as an intern should last a year, but making the transition to “features writer” or “fashion features assistant” can be tricky. Unsurprisingly, the number of aspiring fashion journalists in London is growing. Everyone wants to be the next Pandora Sykes (Sunday Times Style’s very own Wardrobe Mistress) or Sarah Harris (of the striking grey locks and Vogue credentials). A highly competitive industry, getting your first proper job can be dependent on your willingness to stay on the intern merry-go-round until that elusive position comes along. This can be frustrating and somewhat demoralising, given the amount of hard work and time you have devoted to the industry.
One year later, and five internships in, I have gassed a kitchen for ants, answered the phone to Manolo Blahnik (he wasn’t looking for me unfortunately), made very bad coffee on many occasions, transcribed over 20 hours of interviews, wailed unreservedly in bathrooms, wrote 700 words overnight for a deadline the following morning, and eaten a large number of chocolate fingers.
I finished an internship in June, which I hope was my last, and spent some long-awaited time at home with some familiar faces. Various freelance jobs have kept me busy since, but the big question is: London or Dublin? I would love to move home, but given the career I have chosen, my prospects are limited.
Even after all I’ve been through, I do know one thing: I still really really really want this. To be a fashion journalist that is. Not an intern.