Co-op Diaries: Kristen Ferguson at Donna Karan

By Sarah Darrow

Name: Kristen Ferguson
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Major: Communications
Minor: Psychology
Year: December 2012

Company Worked At: Donna Karan
Co-op Position: Global Marketing and Communications Intern
Department: Marketing Dept.
Co-op Cycle: Spring 2012 Semester (January–June)
Pay: Not Paid
Part Time/Full Time: Part Time
Previous Internships/Co-ops: One internship at Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Boston.

“It’s not just your average desk job,“ Kristen told me towards the end of our interview in the Curry Student Center. This became more and more apparent through our rich conversation about her time working at Donna Karan. Instead of having scary bosses sending her on coffee runs 24/7, Kristen had a more than pleasant experience taking on various responsibilities in the Donna Karan Marketing Department. She got to see Anna Wintour in the flesh, witness various photo shoots, and get a behind and front-of-the-scenes look at the Donna Karan fashion show. Read the interview to find out more about Kristen’s experiences at this relaxed, yet very busy company.

Haute Fashion: Was Donna Karan a fast paced environment?

Kristen: It was at times. It was actually really funny because everybody would get super stressed but they would go out of their way to make sure that [the co-ops] weren’t stressed. They would make sure to prioritize and sometimes, you know, you’ll get different projects from different managers and whomever. A lot of times what would happen is a lot of stepping on each other’s toes but you have to prioritize and go to them and say, “Listen, Natalie just gave me something that has to be out to licensees by tomorrow” and things like that. That never really happened though. They always came and would say “wait, do you have anything else going on? Because you can totally do this later and I can just start doing it.” But I would say “no, no I’ve got it. It’s cool.” Actually more often than not I had to go and ask for things because they always thought I was so swamped.

HF: How many people worked in the department?

K: I could probably count them off. I’d say maybe there were anywhere from ten to twelve of us, including me and the other co-op.

HF: Did you have any really bad experiences?

K: It sounds so awful but I have to actively think about this because I really didn’t. I mean there were times – and I have a tendency to be a little neurotic personally – so there were times when I would go and stress myself out. There was one day when they were having a baby shower for one of the graphic designers and I had to go to pick up these cookies from this place that she liked. They said, “Oh, you’re coming from uptown, so would you mind going to pick them up?” So I said, “Yeah, no problem.” I couldn’t find the place. I’m on the right street and I know how to get around here, my god! This is the one thing I know for sure, where I’m going. I’m looking around thinking, “They made the reservation, this place does exist!” It was within this other hotel so I had to walk around this swanky place acting like I belonged there and then of course none of [the cookies] were ready and I was like “Oh my god you’re joking right? I have the receipt here.” So I was freaking out… and then by the time I got to the [Donna Karan offices], they were like “Don’t worry about it, it’s cool. Sometimes they’re a little fickle over there and it’s really hard to get to.” I kind of wish [they] would have told me that before I started freaking out.

HF: How is everyone able to remain so laid back?

K: I mean, I guess it kind of comes from Donna herself. She really is just super laid back, super chill, and it reverberates throughout the entire company. Of course you have some of your VP’s and C-level executives that do the worrying for her basically. But everyone is really casual and that’s why even during fashion week when things do tend to get crazy, no one’s super stressed and taking it out on each other. The atmosphere is still really relaxed. But it’s still faced paced. I think it’s because everybody still has the same expectations, they know what the standards are and how to get to them.

HF: What was an average day like?

K: Well, with fashion in general, there really is no average day. So, my first week I was literally just kind of thrown into the mix of it. Because I started working in January, Fashion Week was right around the corner. There was quite a bit going on with that: planning, getting invites, things like that, and working with public relations.

One day, there was an accessories shoot and they needed samples. And the samples are never where they need to be because there are never enough of them. And when you send them out to magazines, yeah fine, they use them for their shoot, but they’re not overly concerned with getting them back to the designer. When you book the samples it’s usually back to back to back to back so there’s really not a whole lot of time in between. They were having the accessories shoot and the Global Marketing Manager was like, “Okay, we’re having a shoot, we’re missing these three or four bags. I’m going to leave them on your chair if and when they come in the morning and you can bring them down to Brooklyn.” I was like “Okay, cool fine, simple enough.” Of course I get to [the office] and start reading all of my emails and there’s only two of the three bags that she wanted. Mind you, this is my first week, so I’m like “Okay, what do I do?”

I start going through all of these emails and now for some reason the bag I need is going to Lord and Taylor. I have to go pick it up from Lord and Taylor, which is close, but still a little bit out of the way. I have to go get it from Lord and Taylor and bring it to the shoot and then bring it back to Lord and Taylor and then later on in the day I’d have to go pick it up. So, I get to Lord and Taylor, but let me tell you did I take a cab?  Oh no, no, no, they used their car service to get me there. I get into this huge Tahoe maybe big enough for six to eight people and I’m just carrying a couple of purses, that’s all it is… I get to Lord and Taylor and obviously the bag’s not there so I have to touch base with the manager and she said, “Okay, just bring these to Brooklyn and we’ll see.” Basically, I was just running back and forth to Lord and Taylor all day. But they were so grateful by the time I actually got [to the shoot]. They kept apologizing every single time and by the time I got there they said, “we have all this lunch, please stay, eat, hang out at the shoot, and we can show you what goes on.” I stayed a little while even though I did have other things to do and my supervisor would be wondering, “Where did she go?”

HF: Did they have a list of things they had you do everyday?

K: The only thing I probably did on a consistent basis was invoices and things like that. Filing was the only thing that was consistently done. Also, every month, I had to do the FedEx re-class. And basically what that is, is when we send things to all of our stores, [we are] basically allocating costs to them as opposed to us. And it is pretty extensive. It was good having to work with things like the budget. It became a lot more numbers intensive, which was okay. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. It made me feel like I was all professional working with these budgets and all of these spreadsheets. But I became a spreadsheet queen. Spreadsheets are definitely something you’re going to work with on a regular basis… The day to day really varied honestly, which I loved. In some ways I’m a creature of habit, but it was good to get around and deal with different departments… go to the shoots, [see] all of these different places… I like being active and not necessarily sitting down at a desk all day, which rarely happened.

HF: Do you think you would ever go back there permanently?

K: I would, honestly. I would work in any department really because of the people. It’s always the people. I mean you have to be invested in the work in some way, but if the people suck, how could you ever want to be there? They’re just so amazing. Even at my interview, the way my supervisor-to-be at that point, was like, “Everyone is just so lovely…” And that actually is the best word to use, honestly. Everybody is just so approachable and it’s so opposite of what you would expect from the fashion industry. But I think that’s part of the reason why the name, Donna Karan, is so recognizable and it’s such a long lasting brand. Most of the people that work there have been there since day one, since the company began. She kind of likes to keep it all in the family.

HF: What was your favorite memory/experience?

K: My favorite experience had to be the [fashion] show. Actually working at the show and just being in that atmosphere because I had never been to a show or anything like that. Being backstage behind-the-scenes, seeing all the models getting dressed, the last minute alterations that needed to be made, and what’s not working… and just all of the work that goes into [the show]. And seeing Donna back there, and she is very hands on with, “This isn’t looking right, let’s drape that this way, lets tilt the hat that way…” So, she is very hands on and it’s good to see that. I know a lot of people who work at shows that don’t necessarily get to see them. It definitely could have happened in this case because it was a much smaller venue. Because she does it at Cedar Lake, which is in Chelsea, it was a much smaller venue. The odds of me ending up backstage were pretty high, but I just happened to be towards the front because I was dealing with the press, making sure they were on their proper risers. When the show began, I ended up standing right in the corner toward the front and saw the entire show.

HF: What were you working on backstage?

K: Basically, they let anybody from the company volunteer. So, I was standing next to the manager of all the retail stores and he was standing right there putting together press kits with me. We were just having causal conversation, which I thought was really awesome. It wasn’t like they just took all the interns throughout the company… which they 100% could have done. Some of the PR coordinators [were backstage]. It was definitely a very nice mix of everybody in the organization working together. Everyone was so excited and so happy to be there though, no matter what they were doing. Yeah, we were stuffing the press kits, but everyone was so excited about it because they knew what they were contributing to. I started off doing the press kits, and then we got the seating arrangements, which was way more convoluted than it should have been. But it was also interesting to see who was sitting where and things like that. Just exactly how they place people and how they do that pretty strategically.

HF: So, how do they decide who sits where?

K: Toward the back, they had a lot of the international media who they don’t get as much coverage from. Also, MAC does all their makeup for the shows, so as a favor, a MAC rep would get a seat in the back. Then, towards the front, obviously, you’ve got Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington with her gorgeous red mane, which she actually cut at the time. I was a little disappointed to see that. I was expecting to see a lot more hair but that’s all right. Adriana Lima was there. Ashley Greene, who was their spokesperson was there. Once everybody started coming in, we helped seat people… It’s so funny that for a 20-25 minute show, all of this work goes in. but its 100% worth it.

HF: Who were you ever star struck by?

K: I would say Adriana Lima because she’s so gorgeous. She’s so pretty, but not in an intimidating way, which I was very surprised by. And her body type seemed much more normal… I was also star struck by Anna Wintour because she is very intimidating. She is just as intimidating as you could imagine, she really is… and it’s funny because the way I was standing and what I had to be doing at the time, I basically had to be standing almost directly next to her. So, I’ll be honest, I was a little self-conscious. I was like, “Oh my god, she definitely doesn’t like my boots.” She was probably thinking, “who is this girl that is standing way too close to me?”

HF: So, you found the job on NEU Cool?

K: Yeah, and I think that’s part of it too in terms of why they’re not sure of how much work to give is because it’s relatively new for them to have co-ops. I believe in my position, I was the 3rd or 4th they’d ever had so they’re still trying to get acclimated to it. The fact that Northeastern has this connection is very beneficial, because it’s so hard to get your foot in the door if you don’t already know someone and have an existing relationship.

HF: Was this a job that you could have gone into without much prior office experience?

K: Yeah, you really don’t need that much office experience. They really emphasize organization, attention to detail, being able to multi-task and work in a fast-paced environment and things like that. There really isn’t a whole lot of need for prior knowledge. I would say that excel skills will help you oh-so-much. You really have to want to be there. You’re going to be kind of miserable throughout the whole process if you don’t have a passion for [the industry], or at least a very strong interest.

HF: What was the biggest responsibility you were given?

K: They had [me and the other intern] take all of the cashmere [for a shoot] because it was way too much to take by myself. It was our penultimate week there and they had us pick up all the stuff and go to the show room… it’s such expensive stuff! The other really major thing, that wasn’t really related to fashion, but DKNY has a sponsorship with the Yankees, and I was basically in charge of having all the Yankee tickets for the entire company and distributing them. As you would imagine, they were pretty good seats. They have one of those nice luxury suites saved for them. So, basically I coordinated the whole thing. My supervisor told me, “This is what has to be done and we’re not really sure what the best way to do it is, so can you help us figure it out?” That’s pretty much what it was and it was a huge responsibility and I had to travel sometimes with these super expensive tickets… Almost all of the projects really involved me being super independent, having these products, things like that, and having [my boss] trust me to get them where they needed to be.

HF: As a co-op, did you think you had more responsibility than an intern?

K: I don’t think so… obviously as you go on they realize what they can trust you with and what your abilities really are. Position wise, they pretty much assessed it the same way. They were just really grateful that we were all there for so long because it’s very strange. I know in PR they typically only have [interns] for three or four months and they live and die by their interns. In general, interns are really valued in the company, which I think is very important. I mean, you hear a lot of horror stories whether it’s from fashion houses or magazines to PR agencies where the interns are just running around getting coffee. That rarely happened throughout the company. I believe I did it once and they said you can only do this if you get something for yourself. 

HF: What kind of insight into the fashion industry did you gain after this co-op?

K: Definitely learning the ins and outs of the whole process of the buying and market. That was just a whole concept to me that I didn’t even think about. How the shows run, who gets invited, who doesn’t get invited. Even just the hearing the marketing meetings and how they strategize… really just how decisions are made and what they’re based on. Because you think, “Oh, it’s fashion, how complex could it be?” But at the end of the day it’s a business. It’s interesting to see, especially in that capacity, where the creative and the business kind of intersect and sometimes butt heads.

HF: Has your personal style changed since you’ve been there?

K: Yeah, actually it makes me so much more comfortable wearing black. It’s a cliché, but they say it’s a very New York thing to wear black; it just works. I believe it was the VP of Marketing who said black makes no mistakes. And it’s true! It really doesn’t, it rarely can make mistakes. My style definitely has changed I think, and gotten better arguably. Even prior to this, going to class I was way into the yoga pants, leggings and Uggs. I definitely put in a lot more effort now.

HF: What advice would you give to people who want your job?

K: I would say definitely make sure that you are passionate about it, or have a very strong interest. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was passionate about it, but I do have a very strong interest. Also, just prepare to be flexible. There will be events that you may be asked to go to the day off and they are great opportunities for you. Always keep in mind, “How is this going to benefit you in the future?” and what you can possibly get out of it? Don’t forget to network. Remember, this is an opportunity for you; you’re not just somebody’s workhorse. This is kind of to get you further along in your chosen career path. Also, ask questions, always ask questions. I would say that’s probably the one thing I didn’t do enough of and if I were to go back that’s probably what I would do. Be very organized. They love that. If you happen to drop the term OCD in your interview, it will probably benefit you. Demonstrating a really strong interest and passion is most important and that’s what’s really going to get you through the job too. And don’t lie about it in your interview just to get it because you’re going to be miserable. It’s demanding even in a company that’s so laid back because there are still standards and expectations to be met so you definitely need to have that extra investment in it.

HF: Has this changed your career path?

K: At the end of it, I thought “this is really great” but I want to do something more. Now, I’m working at a digital marketing agency on State Street and they deal with a whole lot of electronics, consumer electronics, healthcare, and things like that. Which is fine and it’s all really interesting, but the more I think about it I was like, “Wow, I had a really great opportunity there and there is so much possibility for fashion but maybe in more of a business sense that will seem more important.” Being out of [Donna Karan] for so long is making me want to go back and making me realize what I valued and really enjoyed about working in fashion.

What do you think of Kristen’s co-op? Leave your opinions in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Co-op Diaries: Kristen Ferguson at Donna Karan

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