Having gone on a half-dozen interviews for fashion internships and conducted many of them myself, I know a few red flags that indicate an intern might be in it — as they say — for the wrong reasons. If they ask about freebies and parties right off the bat, chances are they'll be the type who calls in sick "with a headache" at 9 a.m. on the regular. If they write that they have a "passion for fashion" more than once in a cover letter, I'm going to assume they'll be heavy-handed with a thesaurus when presented with actual copy to produce. But, typically, when they say that pop culture — like The Hills — inspired them to look into a career in fashion, I always ask them to explain. Because, despite its reality-show cheesiness, scripted-drama trashiness, and the probably unwise glorification of highlights and headbands, The Hills prompted me to apply to my first fashion internship.
I'm an unabashed superfan of The Hills. I'm a fashion editor. And, I know I'm not the only one in the industry who owes his/her career to the reality show, even if there's more to the job than organizing clothing by color and making sure people don't sit in roped-off seats.
For those who weren't teenage girls in 2006, MTV's The Hills was a spin-off of Laguna Beach, which was one of the first reality TV shows that purported to feature "real life" in all of its sometimes dramatic, mostly dull facets. Unlike Survivor, Big Brother, and American Idol, The Hills lacked any sort of competition, host, or strategy. The only plotline? An Orange County go-getter wants to make it big in the fashion industry in Los Angeles.
When the show started, I was a freshman in college who was interested in fashion and not interested in my major. However, the industry itself seemed like more a concept than an actual reality — "working in fashion one day" felt as palpable as "partying on Diddy's yacht one day." (This was 2006, people.) Though I didn't know much about the actual work involved, I did know the industry seemed intimidating. The women who looked back at me from the culture pages of glossy magazines were tall, willowy, and expensive-looking. Their every choice in clothes or words was deliberate and polished in a way that prickled me in its foreignness. I, on the other hand, couldn't remember the last time I brushed my hair or bought something that cost more than $100. But, I could tell you everything about Rick Owens' past 10 runway collections and Luella Bartley's life story.
So, when The Hills aired, I hoped it would be a guide to working in fashion. I also feared it would reinforce my concerns that being pretty was more important than being clever, or a pedigree was more prized than a strong work ethic. But, when Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port interviewed at the L.A. Teen Vogue offices, the tone was immediately, thankfully, all business. Doing your tasks meant working until everything's completed — not until you've got a dinner to attend. Showing up on time means arriving early and not when it states on the call sheet.
As an 18-year-old whose only work experience consisted of restaurant service, babysitting, and tutoring, watching LC and Whitney navigate the world of "office work" in The Hills' elementary way was an education, even if most of their work conversation centered on rehashing their after-hours drama. Obvious career lessons the women learned were revelations to me: Stick to the instructions, but be proactive if you make a mistake (in the case of the closed Alberta Ferretti shop); take every work opportunity given to you, especially if recommended by senior staffers ("She's going to always be known as the girl who didn't go to Paris"); know when you've grown out of a job (like Whitney did when she moved on to People's Revolution); and there will always be someone who seems like she's got it more together than you (ahem, NY super intern, Emily).
The clothes, too, were a source of inspiration to me. Growing up in land-o'-malls meant that boutiques and indie designers were made mostly for older women with less-than-stylish tastes. Personal style meant choosing a signature color for your graphic tees. Seeing Whitney wearing quirky barrettes or Lauren layer leggings under dresses (again, people, it was 2006) gave me pause. Even if their labels might have been Marc by Marc Jacobs and Sass & Bide instead of Salvation Army and Goodwill, the lack of Abercrombie & Fitch-level label splashing was refreshing.
It's funny — while rewatching the episodes ("for research") this month, I realized I hardly retained any memory of the Brody-, Heidi-, Jason-fueled drama, but I could quote, word for word, most of Lisa Love's boardroom dialogue or Emily Weiss' thoughts on peonies. Watching it again from the other side, I recognized how ridiculous some of their intern "tasks" were and how the industry was over-glamorized and the work was undersold. No surprises here — in reality, casting for a shoot requires a lot more than taking Polaroids of shirtless men; you'd have to replace any designer dress you accidentally burned with your curling iron; and interns don't get flown across the country for a task FedEx could accomplish.
But, ultimately, it wasn't the specifics of the plot that made the show useful. It was about presenting a smart, thoughtful college-aged student who was serious about a career in fashion while also dealing with (an albeit next-level version of) relationship trouble, roommate drama, and school pressure. So, when I moved into a three-person dorm one summer for my own Teen Vogue internship, believe me: I was always early, always eager, and always trying to be proactive. True, I didn't have the same "you won't believe what Spencer did last night" stories to share with my fellow interns, but I'm still best friends with some of those girls. And, yes, most of them eventually came out of the (fashion) closet to admit who they lived by from The Hills, too.
These days, Lauren Conrad is a bona fide businesswoman (and Refinery29 contributor, too!), Whitney Port has her own fashion line, and Emily Weiss has gone on to create one of the most game-changing beauty publications around. It's an impressive rate of success for former reality-show stars. But, I'm not surprised. The show might feel vapid, the conversations might be scripted, and the whole genesis of "Speidi" might be unfortunate enough to dismiss the entire series — but I always feel a bit of a rage when people pooh-pooh The Hills and its legion of fans.
A perfect example of the dichotomy between the general public's perception of The Hills and the poise and smarts of the show's stars is Lauren Conrad's clever response during a recent interview. Radio host Sway Calloway asked Conrad, "What's your favorite position?" Delivering another one of her perfect, always-quotable, surprisingly wise zingers, she answered, "CEO."
From fashion-closet intern to CEO, Lauren Conrad and Co. encouraged me to venture on my own journey from web intern to style director. And, for that, I'd like to share some Champagne and pizza with those girls. And, to all the haters out there? I'll close with this...