Sunday, March 29, 2009

How I almost got a job as an assistant designer at Rochas under Olivier Theyskens...

I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to work as an assistant designer in Paris. Once I returned to New York, it would be difficult to find a design position at a place that was on par with some of the fashion houses in Paris in terms of creativity and craftsmanship. This was mainly because the lines in New York that are exciting in a design sense are too broke to hire assistants. On the other hand, there are many houses in Paris that are both commercially and critically successful.

I chose about a dozen houses in Paris where I would have liked to work. These included most of the haute couture houses (Dior, Chanel, etc.) as well as houses that weren't officially considered couture but whose level of craftsmanship were on par with the couture houses, including Rochas, whose work was dubbed demi-couture.

I knew that I had a very small chance of getting a job since the French labor market was terrible and I would need someone to sponsor me for a visa. Nonetheless, I asked my teachers about the best way to go about getting a job. After calling up all the companies and asking them for the contact information for their HR department, I took the advice of my teachers and hand-wrote my cover letters, which one of the teachers had proof-read for me in advance. In France, at least in fashion, it's customary to hand-write your cover letters (lettre de motivation) because apparently that's one way employers judge the character of potential hires.

A week or so later, I received a phone call. It was actually a voicemail since I was in class at the time, and I couldn't believe the message when I heard it. I also received a corresponding e-mail and we set up a time to meet at the Rochas studio in the 17th arrondissement. It was totally surreal.

I got to the Rochas headquarters on a spring morning, and after a bit of a wait in the reception area, I was received in the design studio by Benjamin Edeline, Olivier Theyskens' assistant. He was a slight, soft-spoken and polite man. He told me he was looking for an assistant designer to help with the main collection as well as the Japanese licensed collections. To this day I have no idea why he would hire me over all the qualified people in Paris, but he said there weren't many people who were good at hand-sketching. Once I finished my coursework in June, I would do an internship with them as an "essai," and if all went well I would continue to work as an assistant designer.

I was totally thrilled. What I had thought was impossible -- getting an assistant design position in Paris -- had happened fairly effortlessly. However, a few weeks later, in early May of 2006, when I contacted him for details of my job, I got this response:

Chère Janet,

Je suis désolé de ne pas vous avoir répondu plus rapidement mais comme je vous l'avais expliqué je suis parti une semaine en congés toute la semaine dernière...
En revenant chez Rochas, j'ai demandé les informations nécessaires à la DRH pour pouvoir vous renseigner le plus précisemment possible.
A ce jour, j'ai obtenu une réponse que je n'attendais pas.
Il est malheureusement impossible pour le moment de débloquer à nouveau un budget pour le poste de mon assistante.
Je suis aussi triste que vous. La direction de Rochas tient comme toute société des budgets et des agendas et pour le moment cela ne permet pas d'embauche avant l'année prochaine...

Vous me voyez sincèrement désolé pour devoir vous apprendre une telle information...
Sachez que je suis le premier peiné et malheureux pour tout un tas de raisons.
Je ne voulais pas en apprenant cela hier vous laisser de faux espoirs.

Bonne chance à vous pour votre futur qui je suis sûr sera prospère.

Sincères salutations,

Benjamin Edeline

If you don't read French good, the gist of the message is, "Sorry, I actually just found out that there isn't enough money to hire an assistant right now." I thought it was strange that he would go through the trouble of hiring an assistant and then a few weeks turn around and say that he actually found out there wasn't enough money in the budget to hire one, until I read an article in the New York Times a couple of months later saying that Proctor & Gamble, who owned the house, had decided to close it down.