What a career sitting in the front rows of fashion shows teaches you
There’s a perception that people who work in fashion PR spend all of their days sipping champagne and frolicking with beautiful celebrities at glamorous parties. And you know what? They do! But there’s more to it than that.
A life lived on the front line of the fashion industry has much to teach us about life in general. Here, Michael Dale, account director for Purple PR, who looks after everyone from new brands like Casablanca (shortlisted for the LVMH Prize 2020), to stalwarts like Italy’s Slowear, shares the life lessons he’s learnt from a career on the front row.
Be cool around celebrities
I started out in VIP dressing for Topman and Ozwald Boateng before I moved into PR. At Topman, in the early 00s, we used to dress all of the cool indie bands like The Strokes. At Ozwald it was people like Spike Lee, Puff Daddy and Idris Elba. You soon learn to become unflappable around these kinds of people. I found that if they were met with awkwardness, they would live up to the diva behaviour, especially if they have six managers and agents flanking them. But if you treat them like a normal person, it makes them much easier to deal with. This job really helps you to relate to people from all walks of life because what have I got in common with Puff Daddy, really? You have to become versatile.
Deal with drama on the frow
It just comes down to organisation. You don’t want to get to the point where someone turns up and their seat’s taken and you’re in that awkward position when the show’s about to start, and you’re like, ‘Erm this person’s really important please move…”, which has happened to me in the past.
So now, I’ll be like, ‘Well that person’s really important so I need to get an intern to save the seat for them’. It’s about killer organisation skills and trying to put yourself in that person’s mindset. OK, I know that person is a certain kind of diva what would I expect from them? It’s trying to put yourself in someone’s shoes.
Be a great conversationalist
If I was single I reckon what I’ve learnt from this job would be quite good for dating. I can normally dig my way out of any awkward silence. At press events, like breakfasts and dinners, you’re talking to people from all ages and backgrounds, and you have to try and find some kind of common ground. It could be an influencer that’s 15 years younger than me or a senior editor that’s 20 years older.
It’s like going on a first date but I’m trying to get them to write something. There’s an assumption that influencers would be super confident because they take pictures of themselves for a living. But largely that’s a persona that they put together and you have to bring them out of their shell in order to get to know them.
In my work I have to be ahead of people and think of everything that could go wrong before it does. This does transfer over into real life, especially when it comes to organising events.
If I’m organising my own birthday party I will be ridiculous over all the tiny details and will treat it like a work thing. I pretty much organised my own stag do, which is a bit sad. But it’s because I know how to negotiate with a person to get a better rate and I know how to play the game.
It’s about being able to rally, galvanise and motivate a group of people. In my personal life, I’m always the person that will start the whatsapp group and get everyone together for parties and dinners. You have to be quite dogged and persistent with following up with people and I apply that to my friends. There’s a real skill to being persistent without being annoying.
You are nurturing relationships over months and years. You don’t have to be too salesy when you have a strong relationship with someone. You can say, ‘Ok, I have this story, what do you think?’ If you’re just an email address with no face, then a journalist will be more guarded. Or like, ‘Oh another pitch – what’s this?’
I’ve worked with PRs and they’ll have a list of 20 names and send them more or less the same email. But for me, you have to tailor your approach to each person and really know that person and what they might be into. It’s about fostering a strong relationship so that you can just pick up the phone to them.
Remember, it’s just fashion baby
At the end of the day it’s just clothes. We’re not curing cancer. I try to take it for what it is and enjoy that rather than place some higher value on it.
In my personal life some of my best friends are welders and taxi drivers who don’t care about fashion, and that helps keep me grounded. Also, I can see the pain on the other side. I can’t imagine what it’s like working on a magazine and having to please all these advertisers. You’re really having to play a game. Also it’s clear where you are in the pecking order, especially with things like whether you’re sat on the front row or the third, and that creates a lot of insecurity. I try to have a level of detachment from it all. I have more things going on in my life rather than just chinos!