The Fashion Design Internship Files Part 1
Do you find it difficult to decide where to do an internship during your placement year? What are the good and bad sides of working for a luxury house like Balenciaga, or a small London-based label like Craig Green? We gathered the experiences of several final year students*, which may help you to get the most out of your future fashion design internship.
Where did you intern, for how long and in which department?
Céline: I interned for two months in Céline’s 3D Design department.
Balenciaga 1: I interned at Balenciaga’s womenswear department for five months, working on the resort collection. I was an assistant to one of the senior designers. Each intern was assigned to a designer, and in this way we were able to work through the entire process, from research to sample production to making toiles. I also interacted a great deal with the modistes in the atelier.
Balenciaga 2: I interned at Balenciaga for 5 months as a design assistant. I worked on the resort collection until it was completed, and afterwards I worked on the show collection.
Craig Green 1: I did a three month internship at Craig Green, where there was no specific department for interns.
Craig Green 2: I worked at Craig Green for three months as a ‘technical intern’. The company is very small, so I literally worked on everything: making toiles and samples of garment details, doing draping experiments, dyeing fabrics, making garments for the show and for the showroom. I went to the factory several times, and also to trimming shops.
Gareth Pugh: I did a design internship at Gareth Pugh for 6 months, and it covered almost every base of the design process.
What was the working environment like? Were interns treated fairly and with respect?
Céline: The working environment was very intense. You had to be at your maximum productivity at all times, because of the amount and quality of work that is expected, but the environment was still made friendly by all members of the department. Because we end up spending so much time with each other, it makes it so much better that everyone is so friendly and willing to help, and is understanding if you may not be the best at something (as long as you’re honest with what you can and can’t do). We were always given dinner and taxis home when working late, which does make a difference to your morale when you’re working for virtually nothing.
Balenciaga 1: The working environment was excellent. The whole team was very positive and friendly, and working for Matthieu (who also interviewed me for the position) was a really great experience through and through. He was so helpful; always available and going out of his way to include me in parts of the process, like meetings with the modelistes and final fittings, expressedly for my learning benefit. We were all trusted with a lot of responsibility and the work we did — helping our designers develop and flesh out their ideas — was actually integral to the design process. Interns were each given a workspace and desk in the design assistants’ studio, located in the atelier (the design studio is across the street, the company is spread over two facing buildings). We had full access to such amazing resources. The design team all speak English, but with the atelier we really had to be able to communicate in French. We were treated well by everybody, and we could really feel their energy and excitement when it got busy around showtime. It’s definitely an inspiring house to work at.
Balenciaga 2: It was very professional and friendly at the same time. I didn’t work physically next to the designer I assisted, so it wasn’t too intense emotionally. My desk was in the atelier and all the people there were very nice, and up for helping me when I faced some difficulties with completing a task I was given.
Craig Green 1: The working environment is friendly. All the interns are nice to each other, and the studio is like a small family.
Craig Green 2: I have never met people as lovely as Craig and Helen! When they were asking me to do something, they were always like “Sorry! Could you please do this or that?” and said thank you in a really nice way when I would finish the job.
Gareth Pugh: At the beginning I found it quite a strange environment, because we were told to never approach Gareth. Immediately there was a disconnect there. For some of us, there was no formal greeting, or an informal “Good morning” for the first month. I feel like it’s so important in a working environment, whether you’re being paid or not, to feel acknowledged, and to have some feedback now and again to know your efforts are making a difference. It makes you give 110%, instead of 100%. Although, we did get constructive feedback from our Studio Manager.
I couldn’t have asked for a better team of interns to work with; they all had different levels of experience. Everyone was so friendly and supportive. We would all help each other out and we’d go for drinks after work. I feel like our errors could have been met with a bit more understanding on some occasions. It was harsh at times, and inevitably the working environment got a lot more intense the closer we got to the show. The whole 6 months were very productive, whether it was working on the looks for the show or projects for exhibitions, there was always something going on. Never a dull moment, which was brilliant. It was fully hands-on, and all of us got the chance to be involved in just about every aspect of creating the collection.
Can you tell us one positive and one negative thing about the experience?
Céline: A negative thing was definitely the long hours and sometimes working the weekends, which was exhausting. Although it’s cliche, the positive part was the learning. My boss would always say: ‘I’m not a teacher!,’ but would give tasks for me to improve on something, or teach me the most secure way to sew on a button. It’s so important to absorb everything that you see and hear, even if it’s just a conversation that a couple of the junior designers are having.
Balenciaga 1: Positive: It was literally a dream come true for me, as I’ve wanted to work at Balenciaga since I was 15. Negative: I tripped really badly down the main staircase one time and tore my favorite jeans. That’s the only bad thing I can think of!
Balenciaga 2: It is really hard to chose one positive thing, because there were so many. I would have to say that the tasks I was asked to do, were mostly something that required me to use my brains a lot. I never had to work like a robot. Most of the stuff my designer asked me to do was never fully directed. She would show me some images and research, and asked me to work on a few different options. For example, if it was about the waistband of trousers, she would let me explore different combinations, positions and proportions. The only negative thing was: no smoking on the balcony.
Craig Green 1: The positive bit is that I was able to witness how a successful young designer brand runs, and learn about working in a multicultural working environment. The negative part is that he did not manage the interns very well. Sometimes we were undertaking tasks that we could hardly fulfil.
Craig Green 2: The positive thing was that I gained so many technical skills, like pattern cutting and sewing. The negative thing was that they need a lot of people to operate the company, but interns do all the things. It was quite hard physically, but I think all fashion businesses are.
Gareth Pugh: Positive: The learning. Working for a small brand, I got the chance to learn techniques from the entire creative process: pattern cutting, fabric cutting, embroidery, sewing, hand finishing and working on accessories. Negative: After our second month, we were rarely told what time we would be leaving in the evening. We couldn’t plan anything that allowed us to have a life outside of the internship. If the evening rolled on until 9pm, we were just expected to stay.
What is the most valuable thing you learnt from the experience?
Céline: Predominantly that self belief is important. How can anyone else believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself? But overconfidence is ugly, so be humble. Also to always work hard and try to never complain in front of your boss. It shows character.
Balenciaga 1: I am a perfectionist and I work quite slowly at my natural pace, so it taught me to really make the most of my time and to be effective.
Balenciaga 2: How to think and develop a garment professionally. I was always more focused on the volume or shape of a garment before placement year, so I never really thought about small details like finishings, fastenings or pockets. In Balenciaga, however, it was the most important stuff.
Craig Green 1: Craig is always very precise about everything, from sculptures to samples and toiles. We had to fully finish toiles since the first day. What I learnt mostly, was how to complete a garment and work fast.
Craig Green 2: I gained so many technical skills and met lots of nice people from overseas, who taught me a lot as well!
Gareth Pugh: Confidence, especially with pattern cutting. You have to be confident and make fast decisions in this process to get to a result, which can then be altered. Previously, I would spend ages on one pattern draft, overthinking and trying to get it right, but I learnt that it’s not the most efficient approach. Everyone has their own ways around problem solving, so it was great being able to learn from one another.
*For confidentiality purposes, we have spoken to everybody on the basis that information will be shared anonymously.
Would you like to share your internship experiences with us, and help students make informed decisions for their placement year? Please e-mail Jorinde on firstname.lastname@example.org
Words Derek Cheng