Simon Doonan Says Privileged Interns Are Killing The Fashion Industry

privileged interns simon doonan jonathan adler

Simon Doonan, left, and Jonathan Adler.

Internships have been a privileged kid’s game since long before Karl Lagerfeld started selling them to the highest bidder. In most cases, workplaces expect an intern to work for them full-time or part-time for months on end, often without pay, which of course means the roles are occupied almost entirely by people who can afford to just not work for a few months. Fashion internships are practically essential to acquiring an entry-level job in fashion, which means working-class kids are getting edged out of the industry in favor of the children of moguls, editors, and celebrities. Barney’s Creative Director Simon Doonan is afraid it will ruin the entire industry.

Doonan points out that he and Kate Moss and many of fashion’s most creative forces (Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and more) came from working-class backgrounds. In an article for Slate, Doonan writes:

… fashion would not be fashion without the contribution made by us slags. We enliven the landscape with our refreshing lack of preconceived ideas. We neutralize the corrosive bourgeois preoccupation with luxury that can so often threaten the creativity which drives real fashion. Slag power rules!

The point I was trying to make was: All the energy and creativity in fashion comes from the crap towns like Reading and Croydon. The Sebastians and Arabellas—the toffs from Knightsbridge and Mayfair—make zero cultural contribution. It’s the lads and lasses who have fought their way out of the rough end of town who provide the creative foundations for La Mode.

Not too long ago, Doonan found himself at an event where he was to be seated with the interns. While some might have seen that as a slight, Doonan was excited to get to see the fashion world newbies.

“I am delighted at the opportunity to break bread with a fresh batch of eccentric hopefuls. They are the oddballs and misfits who have, from an early age, been mesmerized by the notion of style.”

But he found himself not among young hopefuls who had found a way in “through a combo of chutzpah and creativity.”

Funny, they don’t really seem like fashion daredevils. In fact, they seem rather conventional. I am used to new arrivals being a little rough around the edges. These interns are so well-spoken. With their carefully ironed hair and their perfectly applied maquillage, they seem much more like fashion consumers than fashion rebels.

A very intelligent woman once told me, “inbreeding does not give birth to genius.” When everyone in the office comes from the same background, you’re missing out on worlds of inspiration and ideas. If the barrier to entry for the fashion industry is so high that only Tory Burches and Roitfelds and Kira Plastininas can get in, then the industry will not be able to grow and innovate beyond what one large group of very similar people can think up together.

“Simply put,” Doonan writes “if the idiosyncratic freaksters from the backwoods are elbowed out of the way by the kids of the famous from Knightsbridge and Brentwood, then fashion will shrivel and die.”

Via Slate/Photo: WENN


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    • APS

      Simon Doonan is living so far from reality it’s scary. Privileged and egotistical window dressers are what have contributed to where the industry is today. Fashion couldn’t exist without interns. Most of the time we find ourselves running the business while the “employees” are out having lunch and attending parties.

      • LLH

        I believe his point is that back in the day, when interns were compensated in SOME way (housing and food even) you would get more variety of people in terms of background and personal style, those rebels for whom coming from a small town or low-privledge background gave a certain impetuousness and drive to escape. Nowadays those same people look at the internships and the first question they ask is not “Do I want this specific company?” it is, instead, the question “Can I afford to HAVE and internship at all?”. In other words, he is not saying that fashion can live without interns. Instead he is saying the opposite, that the lack of provisions for anyone outside of a severely homogenized group to intern will kill the industry. Interns serve an important function for not just the present, but also the future of the industry as they allow an evolution, homogenize the interns and you kill that evolution. What happened to the Neanderthals again?

      • Edward Ellis

        Well said.

    • Anne Marie Hawkins

      So maybe pay the damn interns? Not rocket science. That’s even less math than it takes to pattern a dress.