I got a gig here during fashion week, acting as the temporary assistant/intern for a designer based in the States. The first day, my job was to arrive at the expo location and wait for a package, which, in the 4-5 hours that I waited, did not come. Hazards of the trade. But the sun was shining and all of the guys setting up the expo and directing traffic became my buddies right away. Finally the team arrived from the States and my first horror was
1. Dealing with the artist’s airbnb host, who was irate when I telephoned, as she had been waiting at the apartment all morning long, much to my surprise. Apparently she’d been trying to email the team in the States while they were flying. I was able to butter her up, and by the time we arrived to meet her, she had very much cooled down.
2. Lugging the artist’s suitcase up 4 flights of stairs as she panted along dramatically ahead of us
3. And into a bright, south-facing space, simply decorated with a witty combination of modern furniture and vintage pieces (think: old-school baby blue ’50s refrigerator and in the living room a glass-top coffee table next to a very square modern sofa). The artist’s unimpressed response to this was: “Cute.” which I of course fortified with my own praise, in French, saying it was a beautiful space, etc, etc.
4. After receiving praise for being ‘smarter’ than previous assistants she’d had in Paris, presumably because English is my first language and so I don’t need her to repeat instructions, we went to the show, where I proceeded to help set up the space.
5.A The hijinks had just begun – that evening the artist asked me to accompany her to the grocery store before showing her back to her place, and when one didn’t turn up, she took the matter into her own hands. Before I knew what was what, she had stepped in front of a waiter who was busy placing coffee on the table of a couple of clients. “Supermarket?” she stated/asked him. He looked at her and blinked. Then he explained to her just how rude she was being, saying that it was no way to approach someone. Meanwhile, the bar’s clientele had turned to gawk at yet another Rude American. I didn’t even want to be involved, honestly, as a person who would never dream of behaving in such a way. Instead of responding correctly to his rightfully indignant attitude, the artist went on to cry “Supermercado?!” in exasperation. At which point I was forced to interject because every inch of my body was aching with the desire to either run away or slap her. I apologized to the waiter and explained that we were just looking for a grocery store. “Bonjour,” he said, “Comment allez-vous? Très bien, merci, et vous?” rather saucily. Finally he told us where to go, and I thanked him as warmly as I could before he turned his back on us, shaking his head.
5.B. I had the pleasure of scouring the grocery store for eggs, while she cried “Where are the oeufs?!“ and
5.C. the double pleasure of carrying her groceries back to her apartment, up four flights of stairs, cradling a combination of water bottles, wine bottles and eggs.
Meanwhile, I’m receiving call after call and text after text from the Boy, who had been waiting for me nearby for 15 minutes. The grocery trip was unanticipated – as was the
6. Stop at the wine store as the artist chattered to herself about loving rosé and bought two relatively inexpensive bottles (12-13 euros), chastising herself all the while about “splurging, but loving rosé SO MUCH, and how maybe it was because her favorite color was pink or something is that weird? “and setting the bottles on the counter, quickly whipping out her wallet as she spat a phrase sharply at the cashier without looking up: “These are good, right?” (In English) He of course interpreted her haste and American attitude correctly: she didn’t care if they were good or not, and probably didn’t know shit about wine, especially since one bottle was chosen simply for its groovy shape.
When I finally made it out to meet Boy, my feet ached and I was ready for a hot shower and some food (as an assistant, I had been asked to continue booth set-up while the others lunched – all I’d eaten all day was some bread I’d thought to toss in my bag before leaving the apt). I crossed the place to the Pyramid and saw my honey circling around on his bike. I gave him one kiss before
7. my phone rang – it was the delivery guy for the packages we’d had to re-route and have special-delivered due to some customs issues – and off I went, back to work. The arrival prompted the team to come set up the booth in full and so my dinner would have to wait – it was about 19h.
8. The next morning I carried a long mirror to them from my house (in the rush hour metro) that they could use because they didn’t want to pay to rent one, and began my first day of the trade show. It was all pretty standard in theory, but in practice proved quite a challenge.
9. The artist at one point, speaking to a client, asked me to hand her the F/W catalog for the diffusion line and I didn’t know which one it was. This resulted in a verbal wrist slap. She looked at me like I was insane as I tried to hand her the wrong booklet and bent down to grab the right one as she growled “You should know what and where everything is by now.” Oh, right, true. I’ve been working here for ten minutes, so that makes sense.
The best part, though, was being sent on a mission first thing that morning: to find hard boiled eggs and low black socks in a pack of 5. Those were my actual instructions, as dictated to me by a small woman in a pink silk shift dress with a feather duster hemline. So I slipped my comfy shoes back on, and set off up the rue de Rivoli only to discover pretty quickly that
10. France doesn’t do hard boiled eggs anymore. No, honestly, I had this conversation with several of the bar/restaurant workers/owners I encountered that morning. Apparently it’s illegal – some motion put into law several years ago according to one of my aproned sources, a preventative measure against the contraction of salmonella. You learn something new every day.
11. My sock hunt was also a little tricky. The closest Monoprix was a fair hike from the show we were at, so I walked at a clip in my black skirt, black blazer and blue boat shoes (sorry, fashion week), show pass flapping against my jacket on the end of its lanyard, stopping breathless to ask further directions of a hotel porter (a very different interaction from that of artist vs. waiter the night before). I suspect there is a law in some old-tymey French lawbook, which decrees that all supermarkets stay hidden as best as possible. Here in Paris they are all unobtrusive, flush with the sidewalk, and don’t seem to have much in the way of signage aside from the letters blasted onto the side of the building. You can walk right by and only notice a supermarket when the mechanical breath of an automatic door spits someone out with a handful of plastic bags.
I couldn’t find a big pack of the kind the artist wanted, so I settled on a couple of pairs of the closest kind and headed back to the show, because no one was responding to my texts of (more or less) “No eggs, illegal in france, want me to get something else?”
At lunch, I went to wait in line to get the team some food. Big ordeal consisting of holding a place in line and letting the artist take the menu back to the booth so the girls could pick and then she’d text me, etc, etc. I had to give my spot away several times before one of the girls showed up with the order – apparently the artist wanted a hot dog with ketchup, two hot dogs if they were small. I asked if there was ketchup, but was told the hot dogs came with a kind of honey mustard dressing. Tant pis. (This girl would later announce at the lunch table that SHE had asked for ketchup for the boss’s dogs, but alas. I honestly don’t even think she knows that I was the one who asked).
12. I certainly shouldn’t have assumed, but I ordered myself a soup as well. Hey, I was exhausted, didn’t know when I’d get another break, and had spent the morning running à droite et à gauche for illegal eggs. I figured worst-case, they ask me to pay for it. But no, that’ll never happen, right? It’s a frigging soup. The artist’s cc didn’t work, so I had to ask the other employee to go grab her other one. She was not pleased about being put in the position of assistant herself, although I was the only one who could communicate well with the dudes working the line.
Two declined cc’s later, the guys just told me to come back and pay after lunch. I finally got back, settled into my soup at the table among the other three women, when
13. The seniority-conscious girl begins a phrase in a wavering voice. “So, I just wanted to talk to you, because, well, the budget, so like, our budget for you doesn’t, well, exactly…”
“I shouldn’t order lunch?” I cut her off.
“No, no, you can definitely order lunch, but because our budget doesn’t like…really…”
“I should pay for it myself.” I helped her.
“Well, right. Yeah, just because we budgeted like a certain amount, and it doesn’t include lunches, actually.”
“Got it, no problem.”
I then excused myself to go eat my soup out of the view of some clients coming in for meetings and when I got back was informed that
14. “So, we have decided that, even though it’s not part of our budget for you, we want to get you lunch because you’ve been doing such a good job.” Why could I not help but dissect that sentence into the condescending farce that it was? Well, because I’m a smart lady. I smiled, and thanked her sincerely.
The day went on much like this, though I was getting the hang of the buying software and the hierarchy among the girls, and when to push and when to let myself be pushed (lots of the latter required for survival). For example, I had to pretty much do everything that everyone asked me to do, even when it was really rude, like when the artist had a client she wanted to cater to, and so abruptly took me off the sale I’d been working on with one of the other girls.
See, I was kind of following the one girl with the ipad program, marking which pieces the buyer was interested in as the employee was explaining the products, etc. Suddenly, near the close of the order, big boss calls my name and tells me to ditch the other girl and come help her do a sale.
15. to which the girl I’m working with reacts with a level of haughtiness (and perhaps rightfully so!) that made me unsure as to what to do next. Later on, during the
16. humiliating argument the two of them had (right there, at the show) about the girl not modeling pieces appropriately (it was literally a fight about the fact that she had put a fedora on wrong in front of a customer), the assistant-theft dispute would come up again.
I lost my voice sometime late that afternoon. Was supposed to go to the movies with Boy afterward, but instead we just went out for some pizza italiana in the neighborhood because I was achy and exhausted.
The next morning I awoke with a full-blown chest cold and sinusitis, as well a bout of vomiting that lasted well into the afternoon, thus taking me off the job for the day. And, as I wasn’t getting much better from day to day, I opted to take better care of myself than of a demanding stranger and call out of the rest of the weekend. Nonetheless, I received texts from the artist asking whether I was “avail toms” – you know, with nary a “How are you feeling?” “Hey you must really be dying right now since you
17. SENT SOMEONE TO THE SHOW TO DROP OFF THE THIRD IPAD. Yes, clutching the telephone in my sweaty mitts as I leaned my head into a giant blue basin, I texted a few good friends to see if one might be available to deliver some items to the show across town for me. I am beyond grateful to report that I am a lucky, lucky lady, with some REALLY good friends, all of whom were willing to help and with that help I sorted out a solution. Props to Ariane, without whom I would have been in a whole lot of trouble on Saturday. She went down to the show with the ipad for me on her first day out of bed from her own bout of illness.
Anyway, complain complain. It was an awesome experience – the girls were interesting to get to know and definitely not evil, though living on a plane I can’t relate much to. I’m also glad to report that I am still not into Sales, I have erased all foolish girlhood notions of one day going into fashion merchandising, and I am, despite of the violence of this list, still very tickled by the caprices of other human beings. Not to mention that, despite the frustrating moments, I definitely kicked this job’s ass on the first two days. For what it’s worth, I’m a damn good PA. It brought me back to the old days, chasing VIPs across the globe. And for all the stress, having a day job again for a minute was fun.
(img: Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, 2006, dir. David Frankel, distr. 20th Century Fox)