These days, you can barely turn on the television without being bombarded by the slew of reality series on air. Whether you flip to MTV or Oxygen, Bravo or VH1, you’re sure to be met by a real-life cast being documented doing whatever it is that they do. There were always shows like “The Real World” and “Big Brother” that put a group of random people in a house for a desired amount of time, and allowed America to watch fascinated as personalities clashed, feelings were exposed, and personal secrets were revealed. But now, the programs have become more industry specific, focusing on areas such as food, music, and of course—fashion.
Fashion reality shows have become a guilty pleasure for many, and I admittedly have not been immune to the tv trend. It started with “America’s Top Model,” of course, and then moved to “Project Runway.” But before I knew it, there was barely space on the DVR to keep up with Kimora’s “Life in the Fab Lane,” Marie Claire’s “Running in Heels,” “Fashionista Diaries,” etc. It was amazing! The allure of reality television with a fashion focus was easy to understand, especially for gals like myself. Finally, an exclusive backstage pass into the industry: the interviews that led up to the main gig as editor, the go-sees that led up to booking the cover, the hunting and pulls that led to that perfectly styled look. And of course, all the drama and frenzy in between. But as with other types of shows that claimed to give a real-life perspective, I began to question—exactly how realistic are these programs?
In cutthroat industries like fashion, beauty, and entertainment—most shows know that, at the least, they must have their fair share of drama. The formula usually includes the bitchy, hard-to-please boss (think, Kimora), innocently overwhelmed assistant or newbie (Brad, circa the days of Taylor), gossipy company vets that are not to be trusted (Taylor, herself), etc. We see the long hours, difficult clients, treks all over the city (usually New York or LA) and haphazard mistakes that take place during planning, but typically still result in an amazing final product. But what about all the other subtleties that make this world of fashion so dog-eat-dog?
It typically starts with your credentials—resume, references, previous experience—which lead to the eager applicant getting an interview (amongst a dozen other applicants, at the least). But honestly, how much experience (in life, let alone fashion) did Lauren Conrad have when she completely bombed her Teen Vogue interview, with a senior editor at that, and got called back for the job?! Things that make you go hmmm . . . Once you get the position, there is then the reality of little to no pay, especially when starting at a major publication or fashion house. I suppose its a part of paying your dues. So how realistic is it that a regular intern would be afforded the luxuries to eat a lavish lunch with her girls each day, go shopping during down time, and take international trips—just because—without it being both a financial strain and scheduling conflict? And with most interns being full-time students, is there really time to party every night? When do we see these girls awake at two in the morning fighting to finish a paper, and up again at seven to attend class and take an exam before rushing to internship from twelve to five, before closing at work from six in the evening until eleven? Oh yea, it gets real out here. And I won’t even begin to discuss the living arrangements that are typical for a college student in a major city such as LA or New York. But I have a feeling that a mansion nestled atop the mountain, or penthouse suite uptown is a very small exception—not the rule.
Now, this is not to say that the type of girl mentioned doesn’t deserve to get the job, but it seems as though many shows give an impractical perspective of what it truly takes to survive in this industry. They make a point to depict the person in charge as stern, no-nonsense, and extremely hard-working (think Kelly Cutrone), so would it not go without saying that the same toughness would be required for people working towards that position? Nice is one thing—but being completely sweet, naive, and timid (the old Whitney) will typically only get you so far. And these jobs will certainly not be placed in your lap. We are rarely shown the months of networking and applying that leads up to even being considered for an interview with such a prestigious company as Diane Von Furstenburg or Elle.
With many of these shows being scripted to the T, we can always predict the outcomes of even the most chaotic situations. There is usually a plan in action, but then a last minute panic situation (remember Kimora’s live runway show in Times Square?) that is resolved in mere seconds before the presentation—always a relieved success! But what about the instances when the mistakes are not forgivable, and contracts, budgets, and jobs are put on the line? No, we don’t see that side so much. But it happens.
Now I know I’ll still be tuning in to many of these shows, mostly for entertainment purposes, of course. But I do wonder the overall impact that reality television will have on the industry. Will it give young girls the insight and motivation they need to prepare themselves for long hours, hard work, and hard-to-please clients? Or will it instead glorify these jobs and have people jumping out there claiming to be aspiring models, stylists, and makeup artists because its seems like a cute thing to do? It’s hard to say. But one thing we do know is that as fun and free as working in fashion is—it’s not nearly as glamorous as it seems. And that’s real.
– Chelsea Smith