Though it’s being hailed as this generation’s The Devil Wears Prada, An Innocent Fashion deals with the disillusionment of a very different aspect of the publishing world.
Whereas Andy Sachs was clueless about the fashion industry before becoming assistant to Miranda Priestly (believed to be Anna Wintour’s fictional counterpart), Ethan St. James, An Innocent Fashion‘s protagonist, spent his entire life living and breathing the pages of fashion magazine Regine, the novel’s Vogue equivalent, and thus knows all about the far-reaching influence and respectability the title carries.
The coming-of-age tale, which HBO just picked up the TV rights to, was penned by former Vogue intern R.J. Hernandez and follows St. James as he pursues his dream: working at Regine. Through his internship, however, he soon discovers that the world behind the glossy, fabulous pages is not the least bit glamorous.
To add insult to injury, St. James’ hero, Regine fashion editor Edmund Benneton (who, with his extravagant flair and, most tellingly, his colorful capes, has widely been pegged as a portrait of former Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley) is revealed to be less genius and more knockoff artist.
But perhaps more compelling than his boss’ proclivities for stealing ideas is the hectic nature of St. James’ day-to-day life as a closet intern. Here, as revealed in the novel, are seven truths about working in a fashion closet (and verified by this writer, who also spent a summer in a closet) that broke the spell of the dreamy world of fashion editorials for the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed intern.
1. Closets cannot function without interns (and, until recently, most were unpaid).
Depending on the magazine, photo shoots can require hundreds of designer pieces — not just apparel, but also shoes, accessories, jewelry and handbags — most of which are on loan from various PR companies or fashion houses themselves. Without interns to check in these often-pricey pieces and pack them away, to ensure both that they make their way to the photo shoot and then back to their respective owners in a timely manner, photo shoots could not happen, and thus magazines could not happen. Thanks to a few lawsuits, Conde Nast canceled its internship program in 2013 before completely revamping it in 2015, using paid, full-time interns.
2. If you’re given a credit card with a sticky note attached, you’d better come back with the item requested. Or else.
When time is of the essence, interns are often sent to pick up a piece from a PR agency or the fashion house itself with nothing more than a credit card, an address and the name of a contact. A punishment for failure to complete a task is not outlined in An Innocent Fashion, but it’s implied that the outcome is dire.
3. Name-dropping is a good way to ensure pity, not necessarily expediency.
Though St. James and many other fashion interns believe that name-dropping their prestigious employer is a good way to get accelerated or first-class service at a mail center, store or even the restaurant where they pick up their boss’ lunch, many professionals, including an empathetic librarian whom St. James’ asked for assistance with a research project for Benneton, can only offer their pity — they’ve seen many a stressed-out intern in the past.
4. Hours can be lost searching for a misplaced item.
Editors often will request several similar-looking pieces from various designers. (In St. James’ case, his first photo shoot had an all-white theme, meaning several tops and accessories were nearly indistinguishable from one another.) In the process of packing and unpacking, pieces sometimes get lost in the shuffle — and if a PR firm is on a deadline, the closet can sometimes come to a complete halt as interns comb through each inch of the closet in search of the missing piece. Explains St. James, “Although most of the missing things turned up after an hour or two of tedious searching, I felt like I was always looking for something I couldn’t find.”
5. Run-throughs are a sacred process.
On his first day at Regine, St. James crashes a run-through, the sacred process in which the top editor responsible for the shoot selects which of the items that have been pulled will work for the shoot and discusses possible additions with the junior editors. As St. James learns, interns are not welcome to be in the room (let alone speak) during these crucial meetings.
6. Working in a fashion closet is physically exhausting.
No need for SoulCycle when you’re hauling 50-pound trunks to and from service elevators, unpacking and photographing hundreds of items, assembling clothing racks, organizing and reorganizing shelves upon shelves of identical nude pumps and, of course, running around the city (literally) with multiple garment bags draped over each shoulder.
7.Seeing the completed photo shoots months after their production is a surreal experience for a magazine devotee.
In St. James’ words: “I stumbled across the August It Girl shoot that I had worked on, and suddenly the world in Regine did not seem unreachable at all. In fact, as the stories that my own hands had extensively handled — shoes I had crushed into packed trunks, handbags I had tossed into indiscernible piles — I realized for the first time that this world was already much closer than I thought.”