When I sent in my internship application to one of today’s most in-demand styling companies, I thought I would be dressing people up as just like the dolls I played with when I was a kid. However, upon entering the studio (my heart was beating as loudly as it did when I went through my “first day” of college), it felt like entering Barbie’s house—only it looked like it was ransacked by a sorority, leaving a trail of designer clothing in utter chaos.
Wow, this is all so glamorous. I thought to myself after being introduced to my bosses. “It’s always like this here, so get used to it.” They immediately oriented me with the whole shebang. “You will be needing your styling kit—clamps, pins, needle and thread, and scissors. And oh, we do a lot of commuting. Do you take the taxi?”
I nodded along to every word and jotted down every piece of instruction that my boss was telling me, acting like the complete pabebe intern on her first day at work.
The corner designated for the stylists was a bit cramped but completely divine. There were glorious dresses, jackets in all fabrics, tops, and several pairs of pants, mostly from retail stores and designers (Rajo Laurel, Mark Bumgarner, Kaye Morales, the works!). Don’t even get me started on the shoes—You don’t understand, this is an Alaia!—even Cher Horowitz would be impressed.
Those long seconds of fixation were probably the most foolish thing I’ve ever done in the entire duration of my internship. Did I not take in the fact that one of the styling assistants was falling asleep in the corner, next to half-eaten Mc Donald’s? I think I also failed to acknowledge that those people have been there since 9AM. Did I not have a clue that those clothes would only be here today and gone the next, ready for returns? (I’d probably even have to fix those myself.) Of course not, I sat there like a starry-eyed fan drooling over Louboutins and Casadeis.
Now this may sound a little vanilla, but to tell you the truth, fashion is not as glamorous as you think. It’s dirty work dressed nicely. That first photo shoot I was assigned to was just a warm-up for more exhausting days to come. It was shortly followed by long hours spent waiting for celebrities to finish their hair and makeup, and days wherein we would pullout (the fashion industry’s term for borrowing clothes from stores and/or designers) and cap off the day with a workout—yes, I prefer calling it a workout. Try carrying six to eight large-sized shopping bags brimming with clothes, all by yourself!
I guess my initial realization was that people aren’t usually aware of the time and effort it takes to put a celebrity on a best-dressed list or to produce a few fashion images in a magazine. Aside from the stylist’s responsibility to fix up a model during a photo shoot—place clamp here, place clamp there—a lot of blood (would a steamer burn count?), sweat, and tears passionately go into the styling process. It’s a labor of love, and the extent that a stylist would go through to ensure sheer sartorial perfection definitely goes beyond the assumption that fashion is superficial.
Another thing I picked up is that fashion is inclusive. I don’t think this industry coincides with its condemned image of being strictly elite. There are vast opportunities for young aspiring talents who want to be a part of the mighty fashion industry. There are stylists who are normally more than happy to help out budding designers, and vice versa. In fact, the whole “pull-out economy” that I experienced firsthand made me see that. Most designers are very trusting when it comes to allowing stylists to borrow their clothing, and can you imagine lending your most prized work to someone you barely know? I can't. But it does happen, and all in the name of fashion.
Lastly, fashion is smart. I know, you’re probably thinking, how can dressing up require any brain work? For people like me who enjoy playing with fashion, putting together an outfit is as easy as ABC—it’s pure instinct. But in styling, you’re dressing up someone else (a celebrity or a model) who needs to portray a certain image. One “personality” could be sweet and youthful, and then another could be vivacious and sexy—there's never one who's completely identical to another. Now, it is the responsibility of the stylist to maximize the selection of clothing in order to create several number of looks required for a shoot or an event—all while ensuring that the theme is followed, that the client is happy, and that the model is comfortable. Stylists are basically quick-witted sartorial geniuses.
So what's my greatest takeaway from this one-month internship? Styling is not for everyone.
One cannot be overwhelmed by the luxury and glamour surrounding this industry, or else there won’t be any willingness to develop the sartorial stamina required for all the hard labor. If you can manage to snap out of the fashion fantasy and let reality set in, then you'll open yourself up to a world of real experience and opportunities. Would I do this all over again? Hell, yes. The end-product of this whole cycle is always rewarding enough. It captures the passion and dedication that were put in not only by the stylists themselves, but also by the photographers, assistants, makeup artists, and managers whose main goal is to tell a fashion story that would transcend time. And that is definitely worth a couple more steamer mishaps.