I often felt out of place in Paris.
When I arrived for my summer abroad, Duolingo, an app used to learn new languages, told me I was 3 percent fluent in French. I struggled to order “macarons” from the “patisserie” around the corner from my apartment. I didn’t understand why no one ordered coffee to-go and I definitely didn’t know the difference between “camembert” and “brie.”
I flew to Paris knowing I was going to feel out of place. I knew I would get dirty looks for saying “bonjour” with a South Jersey accent and I knew my bright yellow raincoat immediately labeled me a tourist. I was ready to be an outsider because the opportunity to work at a fashion magazine in Paris was worth it to me.
As a journalism major, I spent a lot of my time writing about fashion. I wrote for various publications about trends and whatever that week’s “big thing” was, but somewhere along the way I realized that I no longer cared about trendy dresses or the “Five Accessories You NEED from Fashion Week.” I realized that what I really loved writing about were local Philadelphia designers who had stories to tell about their designs, their businesses and being involved in the Philly fashion scene.
During my semester as a fashion beat writer for The Temple News, I got to talk to several local designers and business owners who all told me the same general thing about fashion in Philly: they were proud that the scene was growing, but they loved the close-knit, supportive feel.
Philly Fashion Week, which is this week, culminates with The Runway I and II, each featuring 10 local and national designers. The Runway I and II are the largest fashion shows of PFW. PFW also includes the Macy’s Fall Fashion Show, a runway show that features Designers-in-Residence from the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s Center City, a one-year education program for emerging Philly fashion designers.
The Fashion Incubator helps up-and-coming designers network, build business models and perfect their design skills. Philly fashion brands and designers like Milano di Rouge and Conrad Booker, a 1986 architecture alumnus, participated in the Incubator program.
Programs like the Incubator exist in Philadelphia, a city with a rich history and several art and design schools, in order to help emerging artists and designers get their start in the fashion world and encourage the close-knit and supportive community. But when I took what I thought was my dream internship in Paris, I learned that not every city’s fashion scene has the same environment.
Working at a fashion magazine in Paris wasn’t like “The Devil Wears Prada.” I didn’t have any traumatic moments, no one made comments about what I ate for lunch and it didn’t matter if I wore H&M. But Paris wasn’t Philly.
Going from what is regarded as the poorest “big city” in the United States to one of the wealthiest cities in Europe was disorienting, and it was only emphasized by the elite industry in which I was working.
I sat front row at couture fashion shows, feet from gowns that took up to 800 hours to produce and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and couldn’t help but think back to an interview I did with Regina McWhite-Brown, a Philadelphia-based small business owner and designer. She brought her teenage son to the interview to film us as camera practice; he wanted to go to film school after he graduated high school.
I watched model after model walk by and they all looked the same — haute couture simply doesn’t have the diversity that PFW does.
I spent my time at work tweeting about fashion houses started by old — or dead — white men and thought of Ashli Reese, a Fashion Incubator alumnae, owner and designer of Melvetier and a single mom fighting lupus.
I didn’t feel good standing among Chanel-clad influencers and street-style photographers and I found myself missing the connections I made with emerging designers in Philly. Finally, it dawned on me that I’m never going to care about what Miss France wore to Tony Ward’s couture show, but I do care about Philadelphia.
My summer in Paris helped me realize that fashion isn’t for me, but you’ll still see me at Philly Fashion Week. There’s still a place for me in the front row supporting Philadelphia businesses and artists.
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.