I looked in the mirror in Alastair Mckimm’s studio bathroom in soho. It was the one moment during the day when I could take it easy and gather my thoughts. I remember thinking, “How the fuck did I get here?” I was like a little kid absolutely amazed by my surroundings. This was January, when I got the chance to work with i-D’s team on the cover shoot for the spring issue. This kind of thought was common throughout the year: disbelief, discomfort and amazement at where life had brought me.
This was the beginning of the most energizing, spontaneous, chaotic, and stressful year of my life thus far. I’m currently on my 17th flight of the year, the only one that wasn’t canceled or delayed, back to the States. Virgil Abloh’s mixes are blasting in my headphones and the woman’s chair in front of me is pushed all the way back into my knees. But it’s fine... we only have 8 more hours to go. This lovely woman’s reclined chair got me thinking about the word discomfort and what that looked like to me this year.
OK let’s rewind to my come to Jesus moment in Alastair’s bathroom.
I had been pushing for a few months to shadow a shoot with i-D to get some kind of experience in high fashion, but I didn’t believe it would happen until I was walking up to the studio. After persistent emails, friends of friends of friends, and a lot of polite pestering I got there. For just a few days I got to experience the madness of an assistant stylist. I met these girls that were so fun to be around, and we worked out of an old apartment in soho. My go-to sneakers and T-shirt look was highly welcomed as I would be running all around the city as fast as possible to complete a variety of tasks. As soon as I walked in the studio, I felt a sense of peace. I had found a place in the professional world where people were obsessed with luxury fashion. As any experience in fashion is, they toss you right in and see how it goes and within the first two hours they asked what my plans for the summer were. This was the first of many times this year I realized I was absolutely nothing and nobody in the industry, but my hands were still needed for all the little shit that nobody wants to do. I thought, “Maybe, if I do that little shit well with a sense of willingness and a genuine smile on my face it would only help.”
My time at i-D consisted of me demanding things of people I had never met from all over New York City. I had to put my pride behind me and have the courage to walk into the gold covered LV office on 5th ave and urgently demand things. Half the time I didn’t even know what I was asking for or where I was going, but I just did it. If I didn’t go through that, my current position would be even more difficult.
I-D’s set and crew gave me this indescribable high- the energy and drive I needed throughout my upcoming job search. I was like, “Fuck that can really be a job, like where you finish work and open a bottle of wine at the studio?” Styling still wasn’t necessarily the best fit for me, but I knew it was possible to find that energy elsewhere. I never forgot that feeling, those people, and that energy. I used it as a springboard.
That little internship put me a week behind on my final collection, and if you know fashion you know that a week lost means the difference between three garments and zero. This is when the lovely all-nighters began, day after day after day. I, along with everybody in the studio, became a dreadful, unpleasant, unfit, and unhealthy zombie.
The grind continued for months. My friends encouraged me to stop, some said continue, everybody said to sleep more... “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.” But as college was coming to and end and deadlines were piling up, the only way to attack the approaching life transition was to brace myself and fight through the discomfort and fatigue. I was fully aware of what I was doing to myself, but there was no getting around it.
In February I set up a meeting with our director of competitions. I asked about which competitions could be a good fit for me while showing her some things I had in the works. She encouraged me to apply for the I-SKOOL design competition and told me that the finalists would be flown to Italy over spring break to learn about denim. The deadline was a week later, the same day as our final critique. I didn’t care what it took, my motivation was clear: I could potentially go to Italy.
I-SKOOL chose 20 of us from around the world and we were flown to Italy a week later for a design seminar with the team behind one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers in the world. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I had no idea that I would become friends with some of the coolest people in fashion programs around the world across 14 different countries.
The ISKO competition was another wave of craziness that ended up teaching me how one goes about manufacturing a garment. We went through the whole process for developing one industrialized garment from start to finish: design, development, pattern cutting, toiles, 15 page tech packs, and fabrication. Additionally, we all developed a piece that was specific to a runway setting; ideally showing some kind of interesting new technique you can do with denim that other companies could rip off. Full design portfolios were crafted towards the selected prompt, and additional projects were requested in collaboration with RECA branding that would explain how we would brand our denim. All of us brought different skills and strengths forward, and everybody had vastly different ideas about how denim would be used in the future. It was brilliant to grow close to one another while pushing each other. All 20 of us went to Venice together and we were flown back to Milan for a show together a few months after. I never expected to do any of that, but the opportunity came up and I jumped at it.
Meanwhile during my regular school days:
I was simultaneously preparing my portfolio for employers, sending email after email, meeting with SCAD’s legal team to see if I could legally intern in Europe, and sending physical work to people all over the world. I was trying, (and sometimes failing) to meet deadlines for meetings with my mentor about my final collection. I was doing half thought through patterns, throwing toiles together, and flying to New York to get the fabrics for our final pieces. I thought I was going to collapse and die running around like that trying to balance 5 million things.. I started to hallucinate after day three of staying awake but all the things in reach were equally important and I wanted them all to come through so I had to keep pushing.
My last quarter of uni rolled around and our tutors laid out the deadlines. I laughed, excused myself and went home to cry. I had no clue how any of the work would get finished. I was sick of being strong and exhausted as all hell, but I knew I had to do it and crying more would only waste my time. I failed to meet our first deadline by a lot, one whole look missing. All that was running through my head was embarrassment while presenting my pieces to the dean and chair of fashion. I was running on one hour of sleep and thinking, “How could I fail like this? How could I fail myself? Would they think I was out of the game?” I knew I couldn’t feel like this ever again and I would do anything to avoid it.
It became a mentally unhealthy thought process and work flow. While it seems like I might have achieved some of my wildest dreams over these few months, in these moments of no sleep and self doubt it felt like I would do anything to escape the discomfort. It was a constant game of picking myself up and going after it again and again. My metabolism slowed significantly and somedays I’d go straight to the studio with no shower and very little food in my body.
After failing to meet my last deadline, I was ready to catch up. I was ready to work. I promised myself to stay strong and focused as many hours of the day as I could. As I was just getting into a good rhythm and work flow, I was called into the deans office. I got news that I had been chosen for a competition and my entire collection would have to be finished in one week for a photo shoot with the school. I would also be responsible for directing, styling, and curating this photoshoot. This was the first moment in fashion where I was speechless. A loss for words. All I thought was, “how”. And again, I just went home to cry.
This experience taught me the greatest lesson I might have learned at Uni: your design directors and bosses in fashion are not going to hire somebody that says no. They’re going to hire the bloody hungry one that figures out what it takes to get the task done no matter how much sleep you lose. So when I had a week to finish a 6 look collection with 17 pieces, I devised a plan recruited a team and just did it. 7 hours of sleep in 7 days, a team of 5 that would go and find props for me, steam my garments, put fresh ideas on the table, find models, and pick up food for each other. It was an utter suicide mission, but at the same time absolutely energizing in a way I cannot explain. To this day, my team are some of my best friends and we would help one another out any time when we can. While this happened in a school setting, it works very similarly in fashion. You and your people become loyal as hell to one another if you prove your work ethic, taste, and ability to get the job done. This week of hell coated me with strength and empowered me to become even more hungry. If we could get through this, we could get through a lot.
I was still interviewing, preparing work for employers, sending work across the world hoping somebody would look at it, bothering people in strategic ways, and putting tech packs together for the Italians. I was invited to have my collection in our school’s final fashion show and while everybody was celebrating the occasion I stayed back to prepare more work to send to Paris. Three days before graduating I received my internship offer from Louis Vuitton. I sobbed in my car and went home to take a longggg nap. I was breathing slowly once again, my shoulders began to loosen, and I was praising God that I had some kind of plan, some kind of guidance, and some kind of payoff. The suicide mission was coming to an end as I walked across the graduation stage as valedictorian of my fashion class. I got so drunk that night, and it was fabulous to wake up with the worst headache and not remember a damn thing.
After a week off, I got back into the studio to finish my work for the ISKO competition. I sold all my things, packed my life into 10 boxes and drove home. My heart broke as I left my best friends who had kept me grounded and sane throughout the last four years of my life. They were my family of talented and creative outcasts, weirdos, and misfits. My heart still hurts to be so far away from them but everybody was destined for big, big moves. Savannah, Georgia and SCAD are two very special places and every single day I miss the energy, the smiles, laughs we had, and mentors that taught me everything I knew. I was so excited to move on with things and keep learning, but those four years taught me grit, endurance, taste, teamwork, and ultimately made me who I am.
The summer months consisted of moving, attempting and nearly failing to get a work visa, traveling, sitting on the beach, visiting friends, our fashion show in Milan, picnics in Washington square park, clubbing in New York, quick visits to Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin and freelance work in between it all. I was living; this break was the best graduation gift I could have ever received. I had a blast, hugged my family, got my things together and moved to Paris in August with three little suitcases.
I was terrified and thrilled. That same psychotic energy came back that I felt during our senior collection. I was ready for it, (i thought)...
When I moved to Paris my childhood dreams were literally unfolding before me. I have the privilege of living in the most beautiful city in the world, and the only city I’ve been to that seems to match my pace, keep me challenged and stimulated all at once. I started to learn french and while I’m still not too great, I can speak conversationally so that people understand me. One of my best friends came to help me move in. We shared a bed for three weeks, took three trains and a bus to get to IKEA, gambled and lost money on a street game, ate cheese and bread to save money, stayed in a hostel for one night in Amsterdam, and had the adventure of a lifetime.
I was living the dream, but in reality I was struggling a lot with my work. I really didn’t get it at first. I didn’t get how to be an assistant to somebody. I was frustrated with myself for not understanding simple things such as the photocopy machine. Everything was different- using a different keyboard, speaking french with an atelier, the social dynamic of french culture, actually sewing on the job, and moving as fast as possible always. It was a harsh reality check for me. My coworker pulled me aside and, (in a more pleasant and constructive way) basically said, “do better.” This coworker from the beginning has taught me everything I know, and her saying this was the biggest growing point for me. Of course in that moment, I felt absolutely defeated. But with time she taught me how to attack things even if I was totally uncomfortable with them Sometimes I still struggle with finding the confidence to do that. I knew how to work hard, but I didn’t know what to work towards and I just ended up feeling lost sometimes. For a while I didn’t develop any notable relationships with anybody at the office, but with time that changed. I failed hard at first, and it took time to find my way. Still, every single day I am learning, my bosses are learning, everybody is constantly curious and hungry for improvement. I don’t think anybody is, “ready for it” but if you want to learn and allow somebody to push you, growth is inevitable.
It is a dream, but dreams come with discomfort. Getting what you want in life is always going to come with its challenges. Some people have to fight more than you, some people have to fight less. I’ve learned this year that I have to be open to opportunity. Opportunity can come up the day before you start your job. A senior collection builds character, but does not define your life at all. I learned that it’s very hard to, “figure it out” sometimes. Being strong means admitting when you feel defeated. There is affirmation that my best friends are always going to be there for me even if were a 12 hour flight apart. They will be your biggest source of motivation and the ones that tell you to stop acting like a bitch because everybody is tired. I learned that you have to fail, but you can’t dwell on your failure but rather grow from it. I learned how to make a lot of pockets, and I learned how to say shit in french.
I had a massively rewarding year. I spent too much money, ran my own mini design team, made lots of things, gained some weight, lost some weight, traveled to a new country, moved across the world, cried a lot and smiled way more. 2019 will bring change- in what way I couldn’t tell you. But this year has taught me to embrace the unknown and always remain intentional and authentic while making our decisions.