In 2011, my school the Academy of Art University, offered me the opportunity to go to New-York for Spring 2012 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. I remember struggling to force back the tears of joy that were welling up as I sat across the table, listening to my journalism professor Paul Wilner, deliver the good news.
Like any other aspiring fashion journalist, this long time goal of mine was finally becoming a reality and I soaked up every moment of it. In the intervening weeks I often found myself living in a reverie. Sporting that coveted press pass around my neck, I found myself sitting in the front row, interviewing designers backstage, managing the photographer assigned to my stories, cutting long lines with the air of a celebrity and greeting people with kisses on the cheek.
Amidst these surreal moments, I found myself to be stunned and speechless. I was suddenly in an unfamiliar world, pretending I knew what I was doing while everyone else around me had been many years in the game. In fact, I nearly collided straight on with Creative Director of Elle Magazine, Joe Zee while aimlessly wandering around behind the tents at the Lincoln Center. My mouth opened, but nothing came out. I’m still kicking myself for that moment. I should have veered to the left to purposely bump heads and beg my way into a job at Elle.
Although my near run in with Mr. Zee didn’t get me very far, the experience and abundance of connections I made while in New York that first time around have continued to affect my life. Two years later and less than a year after finishing my graduate degree at the Academy, I once again headed to New York to attend the Spring 2014 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Having been working full time at a tech PR agency for the past year and a half, I was in dire need of a fashion fix. I found myself forfeiting the remainder of my vacation days and volunteering to help cover several Fashion Week events for the Academy of Art blog.
This would include backstage access to the Academy of Art show, a one-on-one chat with fashion illustrator and Academy of Art Executive Director of Fashion Gladys Perint Palmer, as well as spending the day with online fashion students as they experienced their first New York Fashion Week. So, I forked over the money for a plane ticket and was on my way.
This time around I was more prepared. During my previous trip to New York I had learned somewhat the ins and outs of Fashion Week and finally how to navigate the New York City subways.
I also reconnected with many acquaintances from my previous adventure. Leveraging these relationships, I had the chance to attend shows outside of the Lincoln Center at a few swanky venues down in Chelsea. These shows are slowly gaining more popularity as the Lincoln Center becomes overly commercialized and flooded with wanna-be fashion divas. Always a pleasure to work with, I particularly reconnected with Gregory Moore. Gregory was an introduction made to me back in 2011 by Simon Ungless, Director of Fashion at the Academy of Art. Quickly bonding over our connections to Memphis, Tenn., Gregory hooked me up with front row seats at five different shows he was producing during Fashion Week Spring 2014 at the Helen Mills Event Space in Chelsea.
These off-the-mainstream shows never fail to impress me. They are often comprised of young and emerging designers.
My favorite emerging designer this time around at the Helen Mills Event Space was Judith & James. The company, founded by Anna Taylor in 2012, is “dedicated to alleviating poverty and infusing hope in third world communities.” All of the clothes are produced by women from Nairobi, Kenya who are living in difficult conditions. Anna employs each of these women and provides them the means to saw. The results are stunning African-inspired designs comprised of bold prints and colors.
This being Anna’s first time at New York Fashion Week, she reiterated my feelings exactly when sharing about her enthralling experience and the opportunities New York brings.
“The whole experience was just a ride,” she told me. “I really enjoyed meeting all the different people who came there from all over the world. Coming together with people who have different skills to make this big event work – the models, the producer, the venue owner, the DJ even – was a wonderful experience.”
Fashion Week however, can be a stressful and grueling experience. I may have been a bit overly ambitious, thinking I could conquer the world. This was my chance to leave the job that kept me behind my desk 90 percent of the day and actually venture out into the action. I wanted to document real stories of people just like me who were trying to make a name for themselves. Needless to say, seven shows, eight interviews, and over 1,000 photos later, I was spent.
The point is that the road to a career in the fashion industry isn’t always paved with gold. We aren’t all Lauren Conrad and no one is offering you the chance to spend summer in Paris. However, each time I make it back to New York Fashion Week, each time I attend an industry event, I am inspired. New York has opportunities that no other city in the U.S. can offer for someone in the fashion industry. The showrooms, the street style, the fashion shows and high-end glossy magazines – there is fashion everywhere you look. Even in the dead of winter, girls are traipsing through the snow in their 4-inch heeled boots. In the city that never sleeps, fashion never sleeps either.
With all of these reasons as a backdrop, something or someone in the industry, such as Anna, always encourages me and brings me back to my senses – or makes me loose my senses. My parents will be shocked when they read this to learn that I’m thinking about moving all the way across the country again to continue my fashion career in New York City after only just moving to San Francisco three years ago. I may or may not have also mentioned London a few times!
From the runway to the classroom, my time spent in New York this past month has opened my eyes to the stories of other students, educators, and inspiring fashion stars just like me who are running the gauntlet and succeeding in bringing their dreams to life. For this reason, I keep writing no matter what the obstacles because I desire to share not only my experience but theirs as well.