Another fashion week and another deadline, another load of stress and another intern, working late and starting early, overdosing on coffee and Haribo, washing every other day and wearing the same jumper and leggings for three days in a row.
This is the true fashion world. Ever in a nicotine fog and on the brink of an expletive the run up to fashion week is far from glamourous; no Wintour perfection, no Roitfeld (though she is no longer at Vogue) glamour and the colour of Piaggi is relegated to the garments being made rather than on the person. This is the reality magazines don’t show, the smell of stress, stale sweat, anxiety and relief is one I delight in. It's the stress and the lack of hygiene that holds all the romance and glamour of fashion; the dark circles are the best mascara, coffee-stained lips have a beauty that lipgloss won’t beat. Schlepping around in fleece slippers and moth-eaten sweater is the haute couture I once craved.
However I'm getting old now, soon to be pensioned off at 28; the fashion world is tough, it wears one out, burnout at 26. The chain smoking and the caffeine reliance play havoc with the system and digestion, the adrenaline-dependent existence turns one into a junky, addicted to that high of finishing a garment and then the slump off handing it over, oh the cravings!
But as I prepare to bow out I have to wonder if the intern who sits at the knitting machine, with his energy and youth, will be prepared to carry the weight of new fashion weeks, the garments needed to be made and the stress of hitting that deadline early because, as we know, stylists need garments made yesterday and have no idea as to the time needed to be made. "Can you make a jumper for look 6? Can it be done for tomorrow?" My head screams "NO!" but the mouth says "erm... should be ok, perhaps tomorrow evening.”
A ridiculous time scale but the adrenaline kicks in and an all nighter is pulled, the garment is made, the legs shaking with exhaustion, the fingers numbed with sewing and the arm limp from frantic back and forth on the knitting machine. Lets not even go into the mashed potato brain, the calculations and estimations needed to make the components have made it work harder than Vorderman à la Countdown.
The intern, as lovely as he is, has limited abilities. He can draw brilliantly and has design vision but the actual ability to put the vision into reality is barely visible. I have to question, what are they being taught at college? The exorbitant fees soon to be raised further are surely set to teach the aspiring students how to create their vision.
However, he is relying on the internship to teach him the skills. It's two weeks, now one week, nay three days before fashion week, there simply isn't the time to be giving tutorials. What is needed is an intern who can do what I ask, "cast on 90 stitches with the hook, every other needle working, two stitch selvedge, tension 1, tuck after 20 rows, then work all stitches and knit trunk for 90 rows, tension 6..."
The look of bewilderment on his face is almost comical but he timidly says, "can you explain?" basically translated as, 'I haven’t got the foggiest what you just said and don’t have a clue what to do."
There's no point getting annoyed, it is simpler and quicker to sit at the machine, and start him off allowing him to watch and learn. But why isn’t the college teaching him all the technical and practical methods required to be a success in the studio and to be part of a team? Why are they relying on his internship when they are receiving the fees?
It's after a long day, frazzled and frizzled beyond comprehension, packing away and preparing to head home for needed sleep, that he says, "I've learnt more here in one day and than what I have in a year at college."
This is something I'm used to hearing, their amazement at the little things that make a huge difference to the whole, understanding the amounts and time for construction, the common sense that often evades many designers as to the blue print and scaffolding of garments. Of course I reply with positives, assuring him that he has done well and has certainly improved since the morning – and he has, they always do – but things would have been so much easier if they had had the skill in the beginning and all that was needed to develop was the speed rather than the digging of raw materials and the preparing of abilities.
When they find out I never went to college, my skills were learned from home, tutored by elderly ladies whose fingers were so adept with the knit that they could create an Aran jumper with bombs falling and children around feet as they simultaneously made the pie for dinner out of ration, they fall silent. I like to think I had a proper apprenticeship with the true artisans of knitwear. They taught me the little skills that make a garment resplendent, the holding of needles, the sewing, the finishing, the tension that have allowed me to be able to create to a high standard. As I progressed to machine knitting, again learning from the skilled ladies in suburban homes I picked up the techniques that are not taught in the expensive, highly regarded colleges. My fee to those ladies was a big hug and constant conversation. They imbued me with the romance of making, of craft, of completing and even now, when I sit with a set of needles and a bag of yarn, the romance overwhelms me and I'm transported to that Axminster-carpeted living room, the gas fire on, the memories of conversation filling my mind and the techniques and skills they taught me flooding back with a smile and a warmth that no gas fire could ever beat.
Perhaps that’s what’s needed in colleges, a cheap council-installed gas fire and a pot of tea, some sofas and a group of elderly ladies with a catalogue of stories and then the proper learning can occur.