It's hard for me to separate my first week of work from all my weeks of work now after so much time in what I'd like to now refer to as The Lost Years of my blog (despite only being a few weeks). Therefore, I am going to use this as a general blog entry about my internship in general: the people, the stories, the reality.
Let me start by saying that I absolutely love this freaking place. I love it. I'll admit, I am disappointed that the internship is not directed at marketing like I was assured it would be. It is definitely not what I plan on doing for a living. However, I have always maintained the idea that it is important for me to know and understand as many aspects of the industry as possible in order to do my job as a marketer more effectively. This is why I took a basic apparel design class to know construction techniques, and why I find writing for CollegeFashionista to be important for me, even though I have no intentions on doing journalism anymore.
I started out doing a lot of busywork tasks for everyone there, which was okay with me. I spent many hours pricing clothes, taking cardboard collars out of shirts, turning hangers around, and ordering clothes on the racks. I really did not mind doing these tasks, because I knew that they were things that needed to be done, things that these people would have to do if I wasn't there to do them and I'd rather them work on more important things that I can't do, and let's face it: I'm an intern. An intern. I am the lowest of the low. I am the scum on the bottom of the shoe of the fashion industry. I know this, and the sooner you accept this, the happier you'll be with your assignments.
After being there for only a week and forming relationships with the employees, I was relinquished from a lot of my menial work duties. I have spent a lot of time sitting in with each one of them with their clients (they work as franchisers, and buyers come in to look at the collections and they help them select pieces within their budget for their stores). While it was very difficult for me to follow at first because of my limited knowledge of Italian and this area of the industry, I am amazed at how easy it is for me now. Maybe it's because I have sat in with literally countless clients and know the routine like the back of my hand, but I'd also like to think it is because my Italian has improved so much.
The showroom is absolutely huge. Huge. There are probably over 15 different showrooms within the place, and there are three buildings. Majority of our collections are much sportier brands, like U.S. Polo, Harmont and Blaine, Jeckerson, and Timberland. I work with a woman named Dina often, for the Stefanel collection, which is one of the few women-specific brands we have and definitely one of the more upscale ones. With Dina, I started out just trying to listen to her with clients and really understanding very little of it. There was another intern there, Andrea, for my first few weeks and Dina told him to show me how to organize the collections for the buyers. It was very "you have to feel where the pieces should go," which is not how I work at all. I'm very logical, I wanted reasonable explanations for why those pants should go there. Every time he tried to provide me with a logical reason, the next example would contradict it. It took me a long time to be able to grasp the concept. Dina told me I needed to know this because we would be getting a huge shipment in July with the new collections and I would be in charge of doing this... and she wasn't kidding. This is what I spent my last week doing.
Dina was away Monday and Tuesday this past week, and I was in charge of organizing and ordering the 500+ pieces for about 5 collections. It may not sound like a big deal or anything important, but it really is. When a buyer comes in, they have no idea about what the collection is going to have to offer and what they are supposed to do with it. You have to know all of that. You have to organize the collection so they can see it in a logical order and be able to understand how it flows. You have to simultaneously set it up in order by equal fabrics, by colors, and by looks (putting a jacket, then a shirt, then bottoms so they can see how the pieces pair together). It's incredibly difficult. Dina, of course, can go through a collection and have it set up in 3 minutes. I took two days. On Tuesday additionally, I went through and priced all of the pieces, but at the end of two days that was all I accomplished. I was terrified that when Dina came back on Wednesday, she would look at me and say, "Really? This is it? This is what you accomplished in two days?" and change everything I did (which she has in the past).
She came back, stopped short, looked at the collections and said, "This is perfect." My jaw hit the floor. "This is perfect, I don't have to change a thing. You really understood this... and believe me, I don't compliment people." Which is true, I imagine... working with Dina feels very The Devil Wears Prada sometimes to me. This is mainly just because Dina knows her job very well and has a specific way of doing things, and I want to impress her and be able to successfully do what she asks of me. I feel very much like a puppy sometimes, sitting there and praying that I will get a pat on the head rather than scolded (though, Dina has never once scolded me. She tells it like it is, but it has never been mean, only constructive).
On Friday, one of the biggest clients came in early for her appointment, equipped with her 100,000 euro budget, and Dina was not ready for her. She told the client, "This is Kate, she is an intern here for the summer. I need to finish something up on the computer here, but if you have any questions ask her, because she knows this collection." Oh boy. Mind you, my Italian has improved tremendously, but I still have the vocabulary of a 6 year old. However, I was still able to answer her questions, and had to even model for her (as our normal model, Raffaella, was not in yet).
Afterward, Dina handed me the presentation on all of the collections which includes the color palette, inspiration, looks, etc. and said, "I'm going to get a coffee and be back in a few minutes. Present this to the client," and walked away. I feel like my jaw hits the floor a lot here. Again, I was successfully able to present the collections, and when she buyer was not confident about the huge theme of color-blocking, I was able to explain the importance to her and how to properly color-block all in Italian. I believe I deserve some bragging points on this one. Kudos to me.
During the time of going through the pieces, I was able to follow their conversation perfectly. I anticipated what Dina wanted, knowing when she was talking about the jacket that she would want to see it with the shorts, and she even complimented me on how impressed she was with how I was following. For a woman who gives probably three compliments a year, I was thrilled that I was receiving all of them.
Of course, being very much like The Devil Wears Prada, Dina has definitely not only complimented me. She told me I need to seriously work on my knowledge of fabrics, which is absolutely true. I can tell cheap fabrics from expensive ones, but in a collection like this where all the fabrics are expensive, I have a hard time telling the silks from the silk blends. So, she is justified in that. She also made sure to tell me during lunch that I could still get another plate of pasta if I was still hungry, but I was going to get fat if I kept eating so much pasta. Well, I guess this is the fashion industry. Though, to give her the benefit of the doubt, I think she just meant it as informing me that pasta can make a person fat, not telling me I should invest in a gym membership. I definitely love working with Dina, because she actually challenges me and I feel like I walk home at the end of the day saying I learned something.
So that is some catch-up on the kind of work I have had to do. Additionally, I have also had to translate for English speaking clients a couple times, and on a rare occasion had to be a bathing suit model (but that was entirely just because it was Sunday and Raffaella doesn't work on Sundays). I had to talk to my boss once about the one building (the building with all of the clothes for children), because they were huge culprits of taking advantage of free labor and making me do horribly menial tasks that I was not learning anything from. While I can put my tail between my legs and accept that I am an intern and they will not give me my own collection and clients to work with after a month, the fact of the matter is that I did pay a lot of money to be here and I did not want to go home saying that I learned how to cut up colored straws to put on hangers to separate collections. This is a learning experience, not a working experience, because if it was then I would have needed a Visa. So, I'm here to learn, not to do your busywork. When there is literally nothing to do, I'd prefer to just sit and talk to somebody in Italian, because then at least I am practicing the language (which, by the way, I have been able to have full two hour conversations in Italian!)
I want to talk about the people at work. This is the main reason why I love this place so much: the people are fantastic. There are over 40 people who work there, and there are probably only 2 or 3 that I don't care for. Everyday I come into work, smile on my face, and give each of them an enthusiastic, "Ciao! Come stai?!" And they return the bright smile and ask me how I am doing also. First, there is Maria, who is an American from Massachusetts and one of my only sources of reverting back to my mother-tongue. She has lived here for 12 years and of course is completely fluent now, but it's nice to be able to actually get closer to somebody there. I never really thought about how difficult it would be to make strong connections with people, because once you get passed the initial, "I'm studying fashion marketing," "I live in New Jersey, but I've lived in London for five months also," and "Yes, I do like pizza, but I prefer gelato" conversations, I don't have the vocabulary to get to know somebody beyond that.
But, I digress. I definitely have my favorites there, and one of them is Enzo. Enzo is fantastic. He speaks a very, very little bit of English, but we do speak in English often because I do like getting to know him further and I can't do that in Italian. He is so sweet, and does not treat me like a lowly intern. I worked with him and two clients (who I had to be the bathing suit model for, because he works on the bathing suit and underwear collections), and he went to go get the coffee. I told him I would do it, and he asked why. "Because I'm the intern, you should sit with your clients." He looked at me weird and said, "Yes, but you are not a slave. I deserve to get the coffee as much as you do."
One day after work, a man on a motorcycle stopped me and asked for directions to the metro. I told him, and he asked me something I did not understand. I apologized and told him I did not speak much Italian, which lead to the usual, "Where are you from? What are you doing here? Do you like Milan?" questions. I answered, and told him I needed to go. Two streets later he pulls up from another direction, stops in front of my crosswalk, and asks if he is going the right way. Yes, sir, it's right down there. He proceeds to ask me if I like Italian men, if I have an Italian man, if I'd like one, and if I would like his Italian penis. I don't know, yes I do, no I don't, and absolutely not. I told him, "Sir, f*** off. I know you don't speak English, but I think you know what that means. F*** off," and walked away.
Well, I told Enzo about this the next day at work. He looks at me and says, "Next time, you call me and tell me. I kill him. I have a nightstick in my car, I break every bone in his body. I can kill, and it is not a problem for me." A little overboard? Possibly... and the threats definitely were not to be taken seriously. There is something comforting in knowing that everyone at work really does care about me though and looks out for me.
Enzo isn't the only one. Armando, who I absolutely love as well, responded in a similar way when I told him about the creepy client who gave me his number and wanted to meet up with me that weekend. He told me next time to find him and he would say something to him. I joked around, "What are you going to do, beat him up?" And he looked at me and goes, "No," and makes a hand gesture of a pistol. "I'll kill him." Again, a little overboard and definitely not to be taken seriously, as it was implied as a joke. But, don't worry Dad, I have plenty of people here taking care of me.
After the motorcycle incident, they don't like me to go to the metro alone anymore. Andrea, one of the male models, has walked me there before, and some people have driven me there like Enzo, Marilina, and Donato.
Let's talk about Donato now. I absolutely love Donato. I just love talking to him, and he's always so sweet to me. I sit in with him and his clients often, and he enjoys my company. Or, at least, I'd like to think he does, because I enjoy his company a lot. He calls me "mia cara Kate" sometimes, and I asked him what it means and he said, "my darling Kate." Aww. He drove me home from work on Friday when there was a metro strike and I couldn't get home, and he said he is going to be very sad when I leave (when prompted, of course). I'm going to be sad too!
There is also Maurizio, who looks like Yogi Bear and always will randomly say to me, "I can't Kate, I'm married," or "I can't, you're just too young for me," without a single prompt. Mohammad, our personal chef in the kitchen who makes us free lunch everyday, apparently hates everybody except for me. I help clean up dishes for him after lunch (so I guess my 4 years training at The Grill Room has come in handy) and I'm the only one he doesn't get mad at when I ask for another helping (even though Dina thinks it will make me fat). Max works in Timberland and is always so excited to see me in the morning, and constantly asks me why I don't go out and party at night. I don't know, I'm tired! I'll admit, I have a little bit of a secret crush on Michele, but I don't know how his wife would feel about that (or his three kids). Alessandro blows me kisses every time I walk by, and Marilina always gives me a "Ciao, bella!" in the morning. I absolutely adore Raffaella, the Brazilian model/receptionist who I eat lunch with almost everyday and help change for clients just so we can gossip about them in the back room. Luiza is so sweet, and I think it's adorable when she asks me to help her with her English, because we just have such a language barrier between us. Andrea, the model (not the first intern, who I do miss terribly) and I have become good friends, and we get very silly by the end of the day, punching each other and running away or pretending he's a ballerina and trying to jump into my arms. There is another Maurizio, and he responds to my greeting with an exaggerated American-accented "Ciao," everyday. He's really a sweetheart though, and asked me for a recipe for how Americans marinade meat for a BBQ because he "needs to know." I've baked them all cookies before, always offer to help them, and they just absolutely love me (I've been told, at least).
I mean, they absolutely love me. Apparently, they have all gone to my bosses and told them individually how much they love me, and how they want me to get a job there. A bunch of us went out for a beer after work last week, and when I mentioned that I want to come back to Italy after I finish school in December, they all turned to Maurizio (Yogi Bear one, who is a partner with my boss) and said GET HER A JOB. Well, my boss Alessandra told me on Friday that if I want to come back in January, she would have a job for me. Oh. My. Goodness. Now, this isn't exactly what I want to be doing, the pay is not very good, and I can't imagine I'd have incredible tasks because I don't speak much Italian. However, it's a starter job, it's guaranteed, and Tina (my landlady) has already informed me that I can come back whenever I want and live with her. So, it's nice to know that in such a terrible job market I was offered a solid job with absolutely no effort. It's an option at least, right? And I just love these people so much that I may be willing to give up working directly in marketing so I could be with them for a bit longer. Only having one week left with them is killing me!
Some pictures of different showrooms at work: