Feb 10th, 2016, 03:05 PM

A Conversation: The Parisian Fashion Intern

By Gina Dunn
Fashion interning, it's a lot of W-E-R-K. Image Credit: HungerTV.com
A quick chat discussing divas, hard work, humility and what it's like to intern in the City of Light.

I was expecting a small French cafe. I imagined sitting on a terrace and having smoke blown in my face while I heard about the toils of being a French fashion intern in the world's fashion capital. I let the interns choose. Amusingly, Starbucks it was and we sat inside.  

Everyone ordered the Rose Pistachio Mocha. Being French, thin and stylish, of course they ordered a plate full of carbs as well. It was carrot cake for Elle, and a chocolate covered donut for Louis. Carrot cake, chocolate donuts, and Starbucks? Where was I?

After asking if he always ate his donut with a fork and a knife, Louis responded with a yes.

I giggled. “That’s interesting.”  

He quipped back, matter-of-factly, “No. It’s French.”

Elle and Louis are walking oxymorons. They’re both on at least their second or third internship. They’re an intriguing mix of knowledge, taste, humility and good intentions. It becomes oxymoronic in the stereotypical sense considering they’re in the fashion industry. Though possessing a bit of fashion armor (or being devilish when needed), it turns out they don’t always find it necessary.  

As I chatted with them, I noticed how Elle’s outfit evoked a softer Kurt Cobain grunge look - sans plaid shirt - with a long black tank dress over a dark plum turtleneck, accessorized with two necklaces seemingly inspired by an eastern tradition. Louis' outfit was traditional with a flair. His bright red sweater (like the quintessential shade of red lipstick so often associated with the French coquette) was a thoughtful contrast with dark utilitarian-esque harem pants, black socks with large polka-dots and what appeared to be black brogues painted white. Somehow, both looks seemed effortless. 

It turns out that in Paris, just like the U.S, it is difficult to be an intern in the fashion industry. There is a lot of schlepping. As someone who has interned during London Fashion Week delivering invites from Hanover Square to Kensington High Street and sewing seams into a few hundred invitations, I’d throw London into that difficult mix. It's rarely Anna Wintour air kisses. There are big egos and low pay, and sometimes none at all.  However, unlike their American counterparts, in Paris, you’re guaranteed a paid internship if it’s for at least 45 days. Also, unless it’s fashion week, they’ll be no working on the weekends or more than 35 hours per week.

However, being a fashion intern is often greeting-less, thankless, competitive and full of divas. Divas are easy to spot. It’s their obvious attempt to appear fashionably larger-than-life but with an extreme flair of haughtiness; caricatures of whatever editor, supermodel or dead society elite they wish to evoke the spirit of that day.

As Louis likes to say, “It's fashion.”  Fortunately, their friends keep them humble. Elle’s friends occasionally tease her about being in fashion. The last thing she wants to do is play into some stereotype. She also employs kindness and refuses to change her personality, she adds. Louis, on the other hand, interned with a globally known brand when he first arrived in Paris. He mentions he was scared and shy; however, the team was beyond kind and welcoming.

“I saw how their treatment enabled me to develop and be more confident.”  

Of course, they both love fashion and they say interning is necessary.  It all feels worth it at the end of a fashion show or seeing clothing they sent to Vogue appear in the magazine. They’re unapologetically proud of their involvement.

Ultimately, they know who they want to be when no longer interns. “We have been interns, we won’t act like that, diva-ish and thankless. We know how hard it is to be comfortable. We know how hard it is to be interns. We know how hard it is to work in fashion. ”

It's easy to be cynical. Absolute power in fashion can potentially absolutely and fashionably corrupt. Just ask Naomi Campbell’s maids.  However, the future of fashion looks a little brighter if, even as interns, they recognize they can either greet a new person to their intern team with a dismissive top to bottom judgmental glance, or a glass of water, two kisses, and a smile. Ultimately, as Elle points out and Louis agrees, “If you want to work in fashion you have to be hardworking, curious about everything, as well as confident.”