“You gotta have style. It helps you get down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes.”
– Diana Vreeland
For better or worse, we live in the day and age that we do, so there is really only one way to tell this story, kittens, and that is through the medium of gifs. Specifically of one of my favorite fun, feel good movies about working for a magazine: The Devil Wears Prada.
Because for being absolutely NOTHING like the the world portrayed in the film, I found some pretty hilarious moments of parallel that kept me laughing.
For example, the time I actually took a phone call from…Dolce and Gabbana.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
First of all, most magazines – even the large glossies are not run by masses and masses of people. Most of the teams are smaller, about half a dozen permanent staff bolstered by interns, work experience people like me, and members of the wider company who work with departments like legal and HR (plus, of course, an ever rotating of freelancers who work for themselves away from office eyes, mostly). Which means, forget any ideas you have about people lazing and swanning about admiring their own beauty and calling each other, “Dahling!” These people are busy! At any given point the team at the area my desk is in is writing, paying writers, uploading fresh content to the website several times a day, verifying stories and photos months in advance, coordinating copy between the printing magazine and various media platforms, keeping up with more social media than the mind can comfortably conceive.
People doing work experience typically only get a week – I was extremely lucky and got two – but it took me a couple of days to find my footing in the office. Because the main teams are small and well organized teams, they are also fairly close knit. Most of what I did for those two days was sorting mail and doing errand runs including…
Coffee runs! Which, exactly opposite of running errands for the magnificent Ms. Priestly, was not at all scary or difficult and was always rewarded with a thank you.
Regardless of the niceness, I admit, I was intimidated. Writing has always been the plan for me but (as longtime readers and loyal minions know), it’s been a dream fought hard for and also supported in times of great stress or trial – looking at you, Great Recession – by strokes of good timing, unanticipated opportunity, and straight up good fortune. So there I was, an eager but admittedly puny freelancer surrounded by an office full of people who have “made it.” Several members of the team have written books, most have dozens and dozens of articles under their belts, all are talented and have achieved a level of recognition for it.
After my first couple of awkward days settled down, the teammates I worked with seemed to realize I absolutely meant it when I said I was happy to help in any way because I really wanted to contribute and learn. At first one or two asked me, a bit hesitantly, to transcribe some interviews for them. These are time consuming and painstaking jobs that are not always popular – however I have nearly five years of transcribing crime investigations, and now was being offered a chance to do interviews with authors, celebrities, and politicians. It was a joy, they were wonderfully interesting! Not only that but these practiced fingers can fly. Word got around quickly and I did probably half a dozen transcription jobs.
I also was stretched into new areas, like sourcing samples of items for upcoming reviews or features, researching and developing lines of questioning for high profile interviews, and even contributing some online content! All of these were new and a bit intimidating, but like almost everything else in life, once I’d tried it, it wasn’t nearly as difficult or as scary as I worked myself into fearing it was.
When learning, my main goal was to avoid this sort of reaction when I had to put that learning into practice. I’m happy to say that as far as I can tell, I may have been found inexperienced in some things, but no one seemed to think I was an idiot or incapable when I did the work anyway.
British fashion is legendarily free of the rules and conventions some other countries take seriously. Again, banish the image of a woman swanning around in couture. The girls I worked with each looked comfortable, individual, and unique and they wore every combination you could think of from beat up boots to high end. It was a stylish eye opener to see them in action.
Yes, there is some kind of minor crisis every day.
The only really hard thing? The Tube Strike. It was awful, I’ve already whined about it, let’s move on and bust some myths!
Myth busted: magazine people are catty. The features team (which I worked under directly) and Editor-in-Chief are all extremely friendly, and no, I’m not just saying that. I pitched ideas to several people, including the features editor who took the time to sit down with me one-on-one to discuss them (one especially looks promising!), and then gave me a ton of advice for building my freelancing career in general and in London in particular. She was a fount of information and encouragement!
This wasn’t a one-off thing, the entire office is incredibly friendly and willing to answer questions. I also got to chat to several of the interns who confirmed for me that the Red office is extremely pleasant to work for. I think this goes back to the reality that the magazine world is much smaller than people realize – not only are most of the people I met and heard of friends and respected colleagues, it doesn’t pay to be a jerk and people out for themselves at the expense of their team don’t get far.
Myth busted: the makeover montage. I enjoy fashion, but I don’t cover it as a living (even though I’d like the chance to do so for at least one assignment in my career, because it clearly can be fun if the awesome fashion team in action I saw was any indication). But forget shopping in the fashion closet for your own makeover, all of those items are on loan, are meticulously tagged and documented, and in almost all cases end up going straight back where they came from. Sorry for killing your dreams.
Ditto accessories. Which isn’t to say I didn’t admire the racks of gorgeous things and enjoy getting to see them months ahead of the curve. I’m snobby enough to like feeling exclusive and special like that.
Myth busted: unhealthy lifestyles. Sorry to the catty among you, these people eat healthy and regularly – trust me, I picked up their sandwiches. Not only that they all seemed to have found and individual lifestyle plan that worked for them, and I saw every body type and shape represented in the office.
Summation? It was great fun, a good opportunity, I learned much and got great contacts. I’m happy as a clam about getting the chance to do it, and hopefully I’ll do something similar again the future. Anyone looking for work as a writer would do well to spend a week working at such an office to learn this much mythologized but often inaccurately portrayed side of the industry: it’s hard work, it’s a valuable perspective, and it’s totally eye-opening.