In 2015, several supremely talented designers stepped down from powerful brands due to intense workload and pressure. Raf Simons decided to leave Dior, Alexander Wang, Balenciaga, and Alber Elbaz, Lanvin. When the big players are questioning the manageability of their workload, where’s the hope for the rest of us?
it’s almost impossible to say “oh well, it’s just a job”, because the lines between your work and you are so blurred.
I've heard horror stories of fashion PRs throwing up from stress in the morning before going to work, have friends whose periods have ceased, whose hair falls out in clumps, all in the name of their careers.
“In October 2007, after 15 years of working in the fashion industry, I walked away from my job, got on a plane and went to the other side of the world. I was heading up the fashion division of a successful PR agency and had the trappings of a "successful" life. But most of the time I just wanted to cry. I was tired, I had no energy, I was terrible company. But in hindsight, walking away was the best thing I did. I felt like I needed to have as much physical distance as possible from my normal life to be able to think properly, put things into perspective, get the fashion world out of my system.
I came back to London with a completely different perspective: that nothing is ever as important as one's health and peace of mind, and that if I don't enjoy doing something then I should walk away from it – I am not obliged to make myself unhappy to facilitate someone else's ideas or wishes.”
Personally, I would find it difficult to function without stress. Stress is pressure, and pressure is tension, and tension leads a creative to push for a breakthrough.
Amee Patel who has spent the past year founding her own Fashion PR Agency, A-M-PR, said:
"For many in the industry, there is an inherent belief that fashion and stress go hand in hand. It's not only accepted, but expected. I think sometimes it becomes a little self fulfilling – from experience we know that if we don't stay late or haven't finished too many projects in too short a time, we will be pulled up on it, which means that sometimes you tend to create a set of worries that may not actually occur, but are run on fear (not of people, but of failing, disappointing or coming up short).
It has definitely affected me physically in the past – I had never suffered the low blood sugar lulls that come from incredibly busy times in the office where running out to get a snack seems secondary to getting everything done; and what my doctor / a local hospital therapist had thought was some kind of respiratory problem (I developed a harsh croaky voice) turned out to be a recurring bout of acid reflux that lasted for months, brought on by work stress.
It's difficult to explain to family and friends outside of the industry – they see you upset, run down, coming home late and starting early, but it's really difficult to explain WHY – why it is so hard, why 'just a job' gets you into such a state.
On the flip side, the people I know in fashion are amongst some of the hardest working I know – we are grafters. And I look at friends and colleagues who have succeeded and it really is those who have worked really hard with sometimes little pay and little support (and this is no jibes at the companies – in fashion you still have to fight to be taken seriously and it means that companies have limited budgets, which means many become these very incredible multi-tasking people). Because when it gets better, you don't take anything for granted and you are grateful for the opportunities. It's also because we CARE – anyone who doesn't care about their job doesn't get stressed about it; we are all a little in love with the industry and I think sometimes that is why it takes its toll.. I look at the brilliant people in the generation before me and know they went through all the same things to get where they are."
Like everything in life, it’s finding the balance between having the job you love and are proud of doing, within the boundaries that your body and mind are happy to function. I’ve created lots of tools for when life turns manic: I turn off my work phone at the weekend and I try to leave the office at lunchtime, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, to clear my head. And I exercise; my relationship with the gym is “on and off” but I cycle six miles to work and back every day and even if it’s 9pm and pouring with rain by the time I’m home, I feel like my brain has had time to calm down slightly. I’ve also learnt to say no, because working at 100mph all week and raving all weekend is, sadly, not physically possible. In a recent Business of Fashion article Charlotte Stockdale said: “I was a really lazy motherfucker before I found fashion. I’d sleep until 1pm no problem, but now, I’d get up at 5am or have no sleep just to work.” I guess it’s finding what you want to get up at 5am for, and running with it. Maybe it’s the buzz that keeps everyone going – that sense of achievement when everything comes together. Maybe this kind of stress is a good thing. Maybe it’s just a necessary component of success, in fact the very thing that pushes you to become your best self. Let’s hope so...