The university year is fast drawing to a close and for many final year students, this can be a daunting time. From the nerves about impending exams and coursework, to the downright fear of stepping into the world of unemployment sans student loans; graduate life can appear impossible to navigate. However, SUBCULTURED spoke to Emmanuelle Soffe, an Oxford graduate working in fashion production and casting in London having worked as the Production Director at Wonderland Magazine, Gay Times and Man About Town Magazine. We asked about her first year going it alone and how you can make it after graduation too.
Discussing her initial interest in fashion, Emmanuelle said “At the end of my first year at Oxford, I decided to apply to an editorial role at the student paper- I wanted to be the Arts Editor. They didn’t give it to me, but they offered me the fashion editor role and told me that if I did it for a term, I might have a better chance of getting the Arts Editor role the term after. I was outraged at first; I didn’t know anything about fashion and because of all of the conventional stereotypes I assumed it was all a bit superficial. But with a bit of thought, I realised that I had actually always loved conceptual shoots in magazines like Hunger, i-D and Dazed, and that fashion and art weren’t actually worlds apart. So I started working on the shoots for the student paper and after a few weeks, realised that despite the fact that I didn’t know anything about the industry, I had a good sense of aesthetics and had a bit of a knack for art direction. Afterwards, I founded my own fashion, arts and identity politics magazine called PAN. My team and I wanted to create a magazine that really pushed for diversity and intersectionality, covering a wide range of social issues.”
Aside from the extra-curricular activities, for some graduates university may have just made them realise they don’t click with the subject they chose. So how important are specific degree subjects for getting a job in the fashion industry? Emmanuelle studied History of Art, and replied “I think that the really high levels of pressure at Oxford, particularly whilst juggling a silly amount of extra-curricular projects helped me cope with the intense pressures of being a Production Director so soon after uni. It definitely helped me hit the ground running.”
So, perhaps it’s less about your subject, and more to do with the work ethic you have?
“History of Art as a subject is really broad and so elements of it have of course helped me since. We did a lot of reading on post-colonialism and gender and the constructs of sexuality- all things that have helped me see existing social inequality and perhaps think about how our work in fashion can help deconstruct embedded prejudices and ease existing divides. I’m not sure that History of Art specifically helped me get into fashion; it definitely came down to the extra-curricular I was involved in. I’m really glad that in my second year I realised that a degree from Oxford wouldn’t be enough to get me a job in fashion and so threw all of my energy into getting as much intern experience as possible.”
And Emmanuelle’s best advice for students graduating this year, looking to get into the industry? “Unlike a lot of industries, it’s a lot less common to apply to graduate schemes in fashion and it’s unlikely that you’ll get very far applying to jobs without any experience in the industry already. If you don’t know anyone in the industry who can help you get an internship then it’s definitely not the end of the world- which is contrary to what everyone told me when I first started. My advice would be to email people directly- if you can find one person’s email from the team then you basically know everyone’s email from the team, all you have to do is switch the names around. Go on Models.com and look through the names and the portfolios of the people in the industry who are achieving what you want to achieve. Then: google them, find them on LinkedIn and if that doesn’t find you their email address then use Instagram as a last resort. Pop them a short introductory message and ask for their email address and you can continue on there. Don’t be afraid to ask people for internships or work experience. Actually most of my interviews and small jobs have come through messaging on Instagram- people are a lot less likely to ignore you that way because I guess you feel more like a real person.”
And some advice on making your social media profile a hireable one: “Make sure your Instagram looks good and that you put your work on there- people look at that and they’ll have formed an opinion of you within a minute or two. It’s unlikely that you’ll get anything paid at the start, but it isn’t impossible to manage this either- despite what people say. You’d be surprised at the amount of of successful people in the industry who didn’t have financial support from the parents and who have fought really hard for what they now have; and if it meant working 9 hours a day interning and then 5 hours in the evening behind a bar six days a week, then so be it.”
So what about when you actually land a job in the industry? “I think that all magazines are slightly different when you intern there and interns often don’t have an entirely positive experience, though it’s by no means always as bad as people say. You should always give a hundred and ten percent to everything because even if it seems like no one is paying attention to you, people do notice a good intern. If you do well at your job and people like you, you can get yourself a paid position pretty quickly- even as quickly as two or three months; because the industry has such a high turnover, they’re always looking for new people- you just have to prove yourself. A lot of internships are unpaid in fashion and that’s also something you should be prepared for if fashion is what you want to do. It can be difficult but I would always remind myself that it was going to pay-off in the long term.”
If you want to get a good job in the fashion industry, London is the best place to start interning and getting experience. We asked Emmanuelle how she finds living in such a notoriously expensive city, and why she thinks it’s totally worth it: “London is such a fantastic city- you can really find the people you vibe with, explore a dozen different nightlife scenes and every week come across a new bubble in the city that you didn’t know about. I grew up in a small village on the northern border of England and Wales, and so I think that the opportunities available to me in London still fill me with so much excitement. If you’re someone like me who is super-fast-paced, wants a wide range of life-experiences, and to meet lots of diverse characters, perspectives and cultures, then London is a big playground. It has such a great energy.”
“Of course, living in London can be a nightmare financially. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and what would be seen as a decent wage back up North, in London is often barely enough. I have struggled financially, like everyone else- but I think that at the end of the day, your drive and passion for what you are doing keeps you afloat. If you want to make something work, it’s going to work. If it means doing stupid hours, tutoring online, buying and selling clothes on eBay for a profit, or even taking six months out to work behind a bar and save money for rent. I’m not willing to let my lack of financial-means disrupt my career in the long run, so i’ve really gone to all extents to make it work- it’s been tough, but i’ve managed it.” But if financial support is an issue for you when you graduate, there’s always the possibility of finding alternative routes to your dream job too.
Speaking of expensive living costs and the struggle to get where we want to be, Emmanuelle discussed some of the lower points in her career so far: “Fashion is not an easy industry. Nothing is going to fall into your lap- if you don’t go out of your way to email people (repeatedly), call places up, chase contacts etc. then it’ll feel like it’s an impenetrable world. But the more people you meet and the more you go out of your way to show people that you’re keen and willing to learn, the more things will work out for you. The two important things to remember about the fashion industry are this: firstly, you’ve got to want it more than anything. Secondly, you can’t give up.”
Ultimately, what seems to ring true in everything Emmanuelle says is the importance of determination and doing everything you can to achieve your goals, because when it starts to pay off, it’ll be more than worth it. “Often, the highlights for me have been some of the sets that have just fallen into place effortlessly. It’s so nice when you have an entire team that vibe really well together and everyone has fun on set. It’s often reflected in the quality of the images too.”
When asked about where she’d like her career to go from here, Emmanuelle said “Funnily enough, I entered the fashion industry with the intention of moving into film as soon as I had a decent amount of production experience under my belt. Recently I decided that now is the time to transfer to the film industry and start working as a freelance Producer. A lot of the skills I gained as Production Director at Wonderland Magazine are pretty transferable to film. The experience I gained with fashion of hammering down people’s doors to get where I want is invaluable but people are a lot more responsive in film. I guess what that shows really is that fashion is the worst industry when it comes to email replies/successful job applications and that if you don’t get a positive response straight away, it’s not at all a reflection of you. You just have to keep going!”
And finally, Emmanuelle gave her 3 top tips on how to survive life after graduation, and getting into the industry you want:
- There are probably people who have a better CV than you and have more relevant experience. Don’t let that deter you- let it motivate you! Learn how to make yourself stand out more than them.
- Always be friendly, nice and down-to-earth with everyone you work with. People will remember you for that and it’s so important not to let a job title change the way you treat people whose position is below yours. In fashion, you can lose your position at any point, tables turn all the time. Don’t be a dick- it won’t work out for you.
- Never turn down an opportunity to gain experience, no matter how small. The absolute key to success is to be an opportunist.
Text by Katt Skippon
Picture research by Juliéy Pham; featured image from Emma’s Instagram (@em_soffe).
Special thanks to Emmanuelle Soffe for your participation.