Is Dirty Work Worth It For You?

I walked in for my interview at one of New York’s most sought after couture houses with a dream, and a stack of decoupage notecards tied with ribbon. I was a sophomore at Parsons hoping for a summer internship.This was when I thought I wanted to be an evening wear, or a couture, designer.

My first day was anything but glamourous. After a brief tour of the office, I was given my very first task. Nothing had prepared me for this shit.

“In here we dye fabrics… There are buckets of dye that need to go. Your going to have to flush them.”

“Flush? down the toilet?”

“Yes, pour a little at the time. Keep flushing as you go, the toilets are very expensive we don’t want to stain them. Thanks hun!”

So here I am, hunched over a toto toilet, pouring dye down the toilet hitting and flush every five seconds. I had to do this for five? six buckets? I lost count. Three more buckets, two more to go. Did that splash get on my Vera Wang flats?

They found me one day hugging the black tule gold sequined ball gown recently worn to the 2011 Oscars. I pretended I was fixing the petticoat underneath that looked crumpled when I saw it. Whew, that was close. How embarrassing! When I saw that beautiful piece of couture in person, I just couldn’t help myself. I mean, how many times is one in front of a gown that costs more than a down payment on a home?

The first time I saw the designer in person, I was stunned. She was emaciated. I have seen her in photos, magazines and knew she was a thin woman. I never imagined she was this thin in real life, though. I was able to see her collar bone sticking out of her frail frame. It was startling to see someone so talented and brilliant like that.

One of my favorite tasks to work on at the office was mood boards. I loved making the mood boards not for the research, but because I would be allowed to sit in the designer’s office by myself and get to spend hours and hours cutting and organizing her boards. It felt great to have a hand in something someone so important would have in her very own office, that she would look at everyday while working on the collection. I loved my afternoons with the beautiful view of the water at Chelsea Piers, with the CEO’s Yorkie on the couch next to me.

Then there were the days I would wear a garbage bag from 9-5, hand dying gown after gown. When fumes made me dizzy, we would take turns exiting the room for fresh air. We were never told who was going to wear it, but if we followed the award shows months later we would see.

I wondered who was sent to get the designer’s lunch. I knew she was skin and bones, but she had to eat I thought. I finally made the connection between the excessive amount of grey goose bottles behind her desk, the bottles of vodka in the freezer, and no lunch orders. I really didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. There she was walking through the office one afternoon drinking a glass of straight grey goose vodka, no mixer out of a straw. Mixers really do have too much sugar, I thought.

The CEO of the brand, was in his mid thirties, blonde hair and blue eyes with a smashing wardrobe. I heard rumors about his recent public court case. I knew it was serious when all of the interns, including me were given a confidentiality agreement that if any media outlet or the press were to approach our building we were not to say we worked or were affiliated with the company, or knew who anyone was. Red flag number one.

I then read that the trial was for domestic abuse. He was being accused of chocking his girlfriend. He was always rude to all the interns. I’ve seen him yell at a few of us for being in his way, or not moving the mood boards fast enough for a meeting. Just a run of the mill prick?

I watched how he treated his small dog. Like any other dog and their master, the dog adored him following him in and out of his office wherever he went. One day in a huff he stormed into his office, the dog trailing behind him trying to keep up he slammed the door in the dog’s face. Another moment sooner the dog’s paws would have been slammed into the door. I was shocked as I watched the little dog cry, wimpier, and he didn’t open that door. I waited to see if her would open the door and let her in for a few moments. He didn’t. It was pathetic.

At that moment I believed it. I believed he did it, and I still do. You can tell a lot about people from how they treat animals.

Every morning at 9 am sharp I would make my rounds, seeing if any of the assistant designers needed anything. On my way to the intern room, I would greet her. Every morning we had our routine, she would run up to me jump in my arms and give me a hug. Sometimes I would get a puppy kiss. She was my second dog. I had a Yorkie of my own at home, but this dog was my buddy at the office. She would cling to my shoulder like a child, and refuse to let go. It became normal for me to juggle making copies with one hand, the other holding her.

On my last day before I left the office for the very last time, I was holding her little paws digging into my shoulder. You can’t fool dogs and children. This dog knew something was up. When it was time to say goodbye I handed her over to the CEO’s assistant and walked away. As much as I couldn’t wait to retire from Starbucks juggling and dragging gowns that weighed as much as me across midtown, I teared up leaving that office for the last time. 

by Jennarosestern

Textile designer by day , painter by night - telling hilarious stories along the way.

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