Co-op Diaries

Co-op Diaries: Linda Chen at Vogue

By Jamie Ducharme
Photos: Linda Chen

167350_10150146026217625_8256987_nName: Linda Chen
Major: Business Administration with a marketing concentration; media and screen studies minor
Position: Fashion editorial intern at Vogue
Full-time or part-time: Full-time
Paid or unpaid: Unpaid

What was it like working at the most well-known fashion magazine in the world? Were you nervous?
I was extremely nervous the first day. I had no idea what kind of environment it’d be, or how close I’d be to Anna (Wintour, editor-in-chief), Grace (Coddington, creative director), or anyone. As a new intern starting off the spring semester kind of early, I was only with two other interns to begin with and a freelancer.

I ended my first day cleaning out and reorganizing the lingerie cupboard (because you know, my boss thought I “looked like a good organizer” and disturbingly, she’s right) while these two major fashion assistants were prancing in front of the mirror admiring a new black shearling fur coat one of their editor bosses had given them. Everything seemed so absurd and extremely important, but also incredibly silly at once. It was exciting but really isolating at the same time because you don’t understand the pace yet, let alone fit in with it.

What was the day-to-day of your job like?
The interns and freelancers would get in at 8 a.m., and we’d start rolling out the racks for all the stories going on. Each rack had their specific place around the office so they’d be closer to certain editors’ offices, and we had a map that we recorded at the end of each day to guide us the next morning. By the time the market editors and everyone gets in, we’d go on a coffee run – sometimes two or three, honestly. I had to carry 20 orders at once a couple times. You just do it, no complaints. And no messing up orders!

Runs to press offices, showrooms and fashion houses start ASAP. You go on the subway, look up the address (after a couple months they’re basically all memorized), get to the right place, call when you’re there, pick up the garment bags, bring them back, unpack them, show them to the right market editor and, again, you really need to be responsible with the merchandise and pick everything up correctly and on time.

Aside from runs, you have some administrative duties to maintain, and fashion interns made fashion week lookbooks and storyboards, too. The storyboards had to be 100 percent correct. If you Photoshopped the wrong look or number or messed up the story title, the market editor might end up requesting the wrong look from the wrong styling editor, which would be disastrous.

You’d probably have 15 minutes to eat your own lunch entirely undisturbed on a good day. You don’t get a lunch break or anything. Just grab your lunch and eat while working. I remember being so eager and nervous I skipped out on lunch for the first three days. Definitely not recommended.

What were the best and worst moments?
Good things tended to happen on set. I started helping out on shoots one or two months when my boss, the fashion coordinator, began relying on me. Your job on set is to be someone the stylist’s assistant can fall back on and completely trust. You’re among the earliest to arrive, unpack everything (even if it means 20 trunks of couture) and make sure everything is perfect. You really don’t want to answer to the assistant if something’s missing. Bad moments are when something goes wrong, and the intern is used as a scapegoat.

I helped out on a couple of Grace’s shoots and got to observe the creative energy of the crew, models, photographer and assistants. On the punk shoot with Edie Campbell (one of my favorite models) shot by Steven Meisel, Pat McGrath told me she liked my eyeliner and had her assistants take inspiration pictures. I don’t think I’ve left the house without eyeliner since I was 13, so it was a good moment.

In general, it was strange and fun getting so much random exposure to famous people. I dropped off Gisele Bundchen’s Met Costume Institute Gala dress to her penthouse and saw her getting ready, manicurist and baby in tow. I ran into the Olsen twins at the Row and Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez very politely held the elevator for me and let me out first.

And of course, the Met Gala. Towards the end of the internship, everyone at Vogue got to go to the after party. I helped out backstage punking out the models first and after dinner, once Kanye came on, we watched all the celebrities file into the room. It was surreal sitting and watching them all mingle.

What did you learn about the industry?
I don’t think it’s a surprise that the fashion world is a complete hierarchical fishbowl. I don’t know if I developed Stockholm’s Syndrome or something but honestly, I learned that even if it is extremely cutthroat and elitist, this is an industry where people want people they can trust. Luck is involved without a doubt, but if you can prove yourself, people will carry you to where you need to go.

In this industry, you’re not patted on the back, coddled and thanked for everything. You prove yourself, then you’re a person with a name, and then you’re trusted with greater responsibilities. It sounds harsh, but it’s just the way. I worked full-time, so I was there 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday and, yes, it was hard. But, in time I learned to do things certain ways without needing to be asked, and built some really good relationships with people there. That’s ultimately what you’re working towards.

What is Anna Wintour like in real life?
I can’t say Anna and I ever had a heart-to-heart, but she seemed civil from what I’d seen. It was always cool being able to take a town car to run her errands. I remember she forgot her office pass and we got off the elevator at the same time, so she asked me to swipe her in and she very politely said, ‘Thank you.” So, either she mellowed out or The Devil Wears Prada is pretty dramatized.

What did you wear every day? Is there pressure to always look great?
I dressed pretty simply everyday, which interns should–black skinnies, low heeled black combat boots, comfortable top. There were a couple of interns who would change in and out of high heels to go on runs, but that just seems like you’re overcomplicating your life. You’re by no means there to demonstrate how many quirky layers you can throw together. Minimalistic, chic and personal is the way to go. That’s pretty much what I saw around the office, too. People dressed to the nines in the sense that they were very conscious of what was chic and fail-proof—lots of black and lots of Alaia, Chanel, Celine and Balenciaga. ‘Individualistic’ is not the term I’d use to describe the “Voguette” style.

What advice would you give someone interested in this job?
In fashion, and specifically at magazines or places with a lot of heritage, starting from the bottom in this industry means constantly demonstrating your worth. You may not always be called upon to contribute intellectually or analyze situations from an academic point of view, but intelligence comes in all forms. It’s crucial to be street smart, to be able to think on your feet and improvise, to be a good judge of character and to be a creative problem solver. Get as much relevant experience as you can, even if it means at a company without a huge name at first. Keep your eye out for openings and contact information and always, always be humble and enthusiastic.

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