Everything I Learned About Fashion and New York City by Temping at Marc Jacobs
I felt a little bit sorry for my temp agency guy when he said the words “Marc Jacobs” and I did not squeal with glee. Believe me, I was excited to be working Fashion Week — even though I had no clue what I’d actually be doing, there was some slim chance I would end up as Coco Rocha’s personal gopher, so it was worth the lack of job description.
I am not, though, a Marc Jacobs fangirl the way many of my friends are. Usually I confuse him with Michael Kors because they both start with an “M,” and both have four-letter phonemes that seem like they were cut off somewhere. And I don’t care for Marc Jacobs’s silhouettes, which is probably the “right” way to say I think his clothes are boring. In fact, the only things I found remotely engaging about Marc Jacobs were his cute perfume bottles, which my mom loves. Now those, those are fun!
My inferior sartorial opinions aside, I was set to report to Marc Jacobs International right at the beginning of New York Fashion Week. The informational email Temp Agency Guy sent had 5 words in it: the street address, followed by “corp casual.” This could either mean “corporate” or “USMC,” but I don’t hang out with enough Marines to know what they would wear to fashion week. So, I decided I would don the corporate-casual version of a Fashion Girl outfit.
A Fashion Girl is someone who isn’t a model, but writes about them or is friends with them and inexplicably owns a spacious loft in SoHo. (SIDE NOTE: I’ve lived here for almost a month and haven’t bothered to learn what “SoHo” stands for. I know that Tribeca is “Triangle Below Canal Street,” and I’m pretty sure I learned that from a Jonathan Safran Foer novel.)
Fashion Girls have 3 types of outfits: normcore, way extra, or all-black. I decided to go with a bright, shiny normcore look: grey ankle boots, black pants and a silver sweater that I got at the thrift store for $2. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what a Fashion Girl wears as long as her hair is clean and shiny and air-dried. A Fashion Girl can wear oversized sweatpants as a shirt, with glitter pantyhose underneath, and two different New Balance shoes, but as long as her hair is clean she is 100% couture. Makeup should be “natural,” or indiscriminate lines painted on the face.
I wore concealer, brow gel, and 30 layers of mascara, in hopes of masquerading as someone who only eats the good kind of fat, which all goes directly to her eye follicles. And then, I was ready to go get on the subway, like a chic and down-to-earth supermodel.
I arrived at the Marc Jacobs building. The doorman was beefily handsome, in a plain black t-shirt with piercing blue eyes. He looked like he could beat up anyone he came across and then write them a touching eulogy in French. He told me to go up to the top floor, number 12, and I got in line behind a woman who was very clearly a model.
There were a few things that tipped me off. Number one, she was carrying some sort of green beverage, which is a sure sign that you’re successful enough not to eat real food. Also, she was dressed in all black from head to toe, with the signature Fashion Hair grazing her shoulders. But most importantly, she had what I call “face posture.” It’s a lot like bodily posture. You get it from practicing a lot, it makes you look like a princess but also kinda dead. Celebrities have it too, but theirs is a red carpet face posture. Models have face posture, I think, because they can never really relax. Anyone can photograph them at any moment.
The Obvious Model was happily telling her friends about her summer travel (I think to Portugal!) as we all loaded into the elevator together. When she got off on her floor, her companion said “Bye, Jamie!” and I immediately Googled “models named Jamie.” I found a name, Jamie Bochert, and searched “Jamie Bochert Marc Jacobs.” This returned several results about Bochert’s status as Jacobs’s muse. Not even to work yet and I already shared an elevator with an international model, cool.
I took the elevator to the top floor and was there for about 15 minutes before I saw Marc Jacobs. The first time he walked by, I thought, Who is the handsome man who kind of looks like George Clooney? Because he only looked marginally like George Clooney, I had to think a bit on who he resembled more closely. Oh! I thought. He looks exactly like Marc Jacobs.
Imagine, for a moment, you are in a house. It’s Brad Pitt’s house. Everything in the whole house has Brad Pitt’s name on it. All the throw pillows, the fan pull, even the toilet paper: everything is emblazoned with “BP.” And then, imagine a guy who looks just like Brad Pitt walks in. Would you doubt for a second that the person was Brad Pitt?
No, of course you wouldn’t, because you’re smarter than I am. Waiting for my exact temp assignment, I sat in the kitchen at the top of the Marc Jacobs International building, looking up pictures of Marc Jacobs and comparing them to the man across the room. It really does look exactly like him, I thought, but why wouldn’t he be locked in a diamond cage for safety? It’s Fashion Week! I looked up interviews with Marc Jacobs on YouTube and listened to them. When the handsome man walked by again, I smiled, and he said “Hello!” in Marc Jacobs’s voice.
Well, it’s only 10:20 and I’ve already met two celebrities.
As it turns out, I was in the wrong place. I was sent down to Floor 10, which was half cubicles and half open loft space, and introduced to a PR lady, who we’ll call Michelle. Michelle took me to the open loft area, where two other temps were hidden behind tall stacks of envelopes. I tried to casually glance at the envelopes, to see if any were addressed to celebrities, and casually read the name “Courtney Love” on one of them, and casually imagined delivering Courtney Love’s invitation personally, upon which she would kiss me on the forehead and casually give me $5,000 cash as thanks.
The other temps were from the same agency that I was. Emily was wearing leggings and an extremely soft-looking sweater, and had a Nike duffel bag, which made me worry that we were going to be locked in the Marc Jacobs building for several nights, and I had not been informed. However, my worries were unfounded; Emily was just enviably athletic. Also, she chewed gum, just like every other girl I have interacted with since I moved here. Everyone here chews gum constantly. Why? Is it because food is too expensive and there’s some Willy Wonka four-course gum I don’t know about? Does it help with face posture? What is the secret?
The other temp, a blonde, 30-something married man in the “corp casual” uniform of khakis and a white button-down with no undershirt, was named…something really weird. I distinctly remember his name was the same as a type of snack cake, but can’t remember which one. Donette? Zinger? Marshmallow Supreme? We’re going to call him Tasty Kake because otherwise I will spend all night on the Wikipedia page for “snack cakes” and then I’ll never get anything done.
Anyway, Michelle did some quick mental math and realized she really had too many cooks in her kitchen, and could’ve gotten away with only using two temps instead of three, but nevertheless set us up in a production line of sorts. Tasty Kake would read the seat number to Emily, and she would write it on the personalized invitation. Then, I would place an address label sticker on an envelope, put the invitation inside, and seal it up with one of those fun “envelope moisteners” that I always think is just water but is really glue.
Emily asked me a lot of questions about stand-up comedy, and Tasty Kake mostly talked about his gorgeous wife, who was a model in Dubai. I have nothing against hot wives, but something about Tasty Kake’s attitude rubbed me the wrong way. My disdain for him was solidified when he told one of the executives in town from Paris a joke that ended with the punchline, “Well, here, we call them JACQUES-hammers!”
We finished our envelope-stuffing quickly, even though we had to unseal and re-do the entire stack of Japanese and Korean journalists’ invitations due to a seating chart error. Fashion shows and weddings are both 85% seating charts. The other 15% is people wanting to eat and not being able to. Not the temps, though! Michelle dismissed us for lunch. Worried that Tasty Kake would tell me more jokes about French people, I hurried to a crepe restaurant, hoping to intimidate him. He did not follow me.
I spent the first 15 minutes of my lunch eating a prosciutto crepe, and the remaining 45 minutes at Duane Reade. Here’s the most important thing to know about living in New York: every Duane Reade has a different clearance section, so you have to go into every single store. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it! There are two right by each other in Union Square, one which had almost no clearance, and one which was closing out its entire stock of Physician’s Formula products at 75% off. If you don’t go to every Duane Reade you see, you are missing out on the chance to send your mom four powder compacts via the US Postal Service. The Duane Reade near the Marc Jacobs office didn’t have good clearance, but they had fancy skincare, which I sampled liberally.
After lunch, Emily and Tasty and I began our real mission: delivering invitations. I was glad I had dressed like a Fashion Girl, because my cute-but-sensible Clarks boots were well-suited for walking around SoHo. I think “SoHo” may stand for “SO many HOtels,” because I delivered invitations to 4 or 5 different hotels on Monday afternoon. For whatever reason, all the hotels in New York stick their reception/concierge desk on the second floor. Maybe it’s extra exercise for the temps. If they work us hard enough, we’ll become sinewy models, ascending from clearance-bin Adidas Stan Smiths to $600 Gucci sneakers that are only technically “athletic” shoes. It’s for our own good, temps and couriers of the world.
I walked five or six miles and then went home for the day, to report bright and early Tuesday morning (aka 10-ish). I went less Fashion Girl and more Sweaty Mom for day two: aforementioned discount Stan Smiths, a long sundress and a ponytail. A long dress is great because even though you’ll sweat a lot, you won’t get butt-stuck to the subway seat the way you do in a shorter skirt.
Michelle gave me two very large stacks: one for Union Square, and one for the Upper East Side. Upper East Side! That’s where Gossip Girl lives! I thought. I haven’t finished Gossip Girl so if she actually lives somewhere else, please don’t tell me. I went to Union Square, home of many great Duane Reades, and noticed that Barnes and Noble seemed to be, for lack of a better word, poppin’. There were partitions set up around the building to steer the line, which stretched around the block. A woman in a homemade DEATH TO THE DEATH PENALTY shirt came up to me.
“Did you get to see her?” she asked me.
“What? Who? Barnes and Noble?” I asked. I cunningly discerned that a book-signing was going on, but it didn’t appear to be Rick Springfield, which is too bad because I could’ve attended my second accidental Rick Springfield book signing.
“Hillary!” the woman shouted over her shoulder, jaywalking away from me.
Oh. Hillary Clinton was signing her book. That’s why Union Square was FUBAR, a term my dad uses exclusively to refer to the government and Quik Trip parking lots. I continued on towards another fancy hotel, and wondered if Hillary secretly scheduled her book tour kick-off to coincide with fashion week so she could take some selfies with Raf Simons.
I only had a couple deliveries that weren’t to hotels, and one of them was an apartment on the Upper East Side. I Googled the recipient’s name and returned lots of Fashion Girl results: an #ITGTopShelfie, an interview on Coveteur, several candid street-style shots. Good.
Her apartment was in a weird medical neighborhood. I say “weird” because it wasn’t a normal medical district, where you’re near research hospitals and a cancer treatment center. All the offices around here were “boutique” medical centers. If cosmetic plastic surgery is “elective,” these places specialized in the downright extracurricular.
I got a little turned around and a maintenance man outside one building asked me if I needed help.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I’m trying to find this person’s apartment,” I said.
I showed him the envelope and address.
“Ahhhh,” he said softly, “Sofiya.” I could tell by his wistful tone of voice that I was very, very close to a retired model’s apartment. He directed me through a weird hallway that went through the lobby of a boutique cardiology center (??????), and into a very hideous apartment foyer with no doorman. I buzzed the unit number on the envelope and Sofiya Somethingorother unlocked the door remotely.
I took the elevator up to her floor — and when I say her floor, I mean her floor. It didn’t seem like there was another apartment there. As soon as the elevator door opened, a long arm shot out of the apartment, a reedy voice with a thick Russian accent said “Thank you!” and the door shut in my face. Reassuring, though: I could see into her apartment long enough to say with authority that even retired supermodels shop at IKEA.
According to my notes, at one point on Tuesday I was in some place called “The Bowery,” but I couldn’t tell you where that falls in this chronology. Every Manhattan neighborhood sounds like a lamp store. The Bowery. Morningside Heights. Battery Park.
Anyway, in the Bowery, wherever that is, I discovered another large cluster of loitering folks, this one not corralled by metal partitions. These people all had cameras, and they were all standing around a hotel, which is how I knew it was the hotel my next delivery was for. I went inside and up stupid stairs to the stupid second floor, where the concierge told me that deliveries actually needed to be handled through the service entrance around the corner.
I went back outside and turned the corner, where there was A DOG ON A SKATEBOARD. Boy, all those people with their cameras really missed out on some quality photography! They were looking for models while there was a skateboarding dog mere feet from them! It was a big dog, too, on a full-size skateboard. It probably protected young kids from bullies.
Hey. Did you know that all the service entrances to all the hotels are just open? They are. You’d think that you need some sort of credentials or screening to get into the dank boiler rooms and delivery areas, but nope! You can just open the door and waltz right in. A surprising number of people get cowboy boots delivered to their hotels, evidently. Is this some sort of secret signal I’m too poor to understand? Do you send a pair of heavily-embellished cowboy boots to your lover’s hotel to ask for a midnight tryst? Because at least two of the service areas I snooped around in had cowboy boots delivered that day.
I was very excited at one point because a woman stopped me and asked me for directions to a hotel.
“Oh, I was just there, mere minutes ago!” I said. “You just go down this street and make a right and then you use the entryway that’s through the garden.”
It wasn’t until after she walked away that I realized I’d given her directions to a completely different hotel. I’ve ruined my New Yorker karma already. I prayed a little bit over that, and asked God to forgive me for my arrogance. Also, now is probably a good time to tell you all I still pray for forgiveness every time I jaywalk.
You may think that because New York is such a crowded city, all the dogs here are small. Incorrect! Yes, there are many small dogs, some offensively so. But I also saw many large dogs, including the one on the skateboard. There was also a Great Dane/Dalmatian mix that I genuinely mistook for a small cow. All the dogspotting made up for my leg pain. In total, I walked just over 12 miles on temp day two. I went back to MJI and Michelle said that my deliveries on the final day should be short and sweet. Great!
Day three, I was sent around SoHo once again. This was good, because I was familiar with the neighborhood, but bad because I was overconfident in my navigating abilities. I spent a lot of time dodging photography sessions. There are a number of reasons this confounds me. Why would you ever, ever try to take a photograph in New York? There will always be other people and/or trash in the picture. You’re always blocking foot traffic or car traffic, because photographers only take their “fashion” pictures in the middle of the street or on picturesque stoops. New York City should institute a “no photography” rule and then set up a park that is just for pictures, with Lego versions of all the major landmarks, and artificial exposed brick/fire escapes/subway platforms for Instagram models to pose on. I think it would be quite lucrative.
I walked past lots of fashion houses and fancy stores that I didn’t realize existed outside of the Internet. I still get nervous around ACNE Studios because I think their clothes are cute, but I worry that by shopping there I would jinx actual acne onto my face. Luckily, I am still poor, so this isn’t a problem.
I was done a little bit after noon, and Michelle dismissed me to go home. On my way to the subway, which wasn’t even that far, I managed to stumble into a street festival. On a Wednesday. I would like to point out that since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve wandered into three separate street festivals, and they just crop up without notice. At one festival a few weeks ago on Labor Day weekend, I asked a police officer working security if it was a Labor Day celebration or something else.
“I have no idea,” he told me. “There’s absolutely no logic to these things. They just set up and we have to be here. You watch, the next one will crop up on Christmas Day.” Then he made fun of me for wearing a sweater when it was 75 degrees out.
I thought about exploring this particular festival, which appeared to be sponsored by a Catholic organization and featured multiple sausage vendors, but my legs were tired and I wanted to sweat in my own home. So I went all the way back to Astoria, cooked a chicken breast, put half a container of ricotta cheese on it because that’s what temp money is for, and went to bed at 4:00.
So, what did I learn from my first-ever temp job?
- Temping is a great way to get exercise
- Nothing builds your self-esteem like being surrounded by actual fashion models
- Everyone in New York smokes except me
- You can walk around Duane Reade with a crepe and no one will care
- Marc Jacobs is uncomfortably handsome
- I still don’t know what SoHo is but I’m about to crack “NoLita” by myself
- My hair will never be clean enough for me to work in fashion, and I’m okay with that