It’s hard enough getting thrown into the heady world of international high fashion when you’re still a teenager. It’s even tougher when the dominant language of the fashion house where you’re working isn’t your native language but instead, say, Hungarian.
Though 16-year-old Mercina Grace Tillemann-Dick, one of the many players in our July 10 feature, took it all in stride during her recent internship at one of the most prominent fashion companies in all of Budapest. After all, years of critiquing the attire of her substantial and magnificent family back in Denver had honed her chops.
Find her take on her European fashion adventures below. -- Joel Warner
The concept of going into the fashion industry had always interested me. My plan was to become a designer. I practiced for my calling -- saving the fashionistas of the world from bondage to bad taste -- by taking my place on the front lines and redressing my parents and ten siblings on a daily basis. But by the time I'd turned ten my eyes were opened. I astonished my parents by announcing that I'd become practical and had decided that law, business or dental school would be a better idea. There was some disappointment in the ranks so when the opportunity to go to Budapest and intern in one of the premier fashion houses of eastern Europe presented itself, I resigned myself to exploring my first passion.
I approached this rendezvous with destiny with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had only sewn quilts and I assumed that an internship in a fashion house might involve a bit of sewing. After a month-long crash course in sewing, I wasn't completely confident in my ability to sew anything they would throw at me but was definitely more adept than when I began – having finished my first Vogue coat.
Warned before arriving that everyone was drowning in fur, fabric bones, beads and intensity as they prepared for the upcoming spring fashion shows, I went to my first meeting with the designer I’d be working for anticipating that my internship wouldn't start until after the spring shows were finished. Entering the building, I encountered a receptionist who could have walked off the set of The Devil Wears Prada. She summoned Lucia, the designer, who was initially brusque and laconic. After exchanging niceties, she showed me into her peachy champagne-colored office. The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with exquisite clothing and in the middle of it all stood a statuesque model draped in a floor length, hand-painted evening gown with the color and froth of fresh cream. It was a rather fitting first encounter to this adventure. After being shown some of Lucia's most celebrated pieces, I was led into a room off her office filled with half a dozen twenty-something women sketching and pinning patterns on cloth models. They responded to my atrocious Hungarian greeting warmly. Then it was off to the salon where they were fitting more models for the show.
Think of how you feel upon first entering a new setting – maybe a little self conscious and nervous? What if you don't speak the language well, are several years younger than everyone else and suddenly realize that you're surrounded by six-foot tall girls when barefoot and much taller in four-inch heels? It's a bit overwhelming! After I regained my composure, I was taken up to the sewing room where all of the dresses are kept. Ten or twelve women were busily sewing exquisite items of clothing. After seeing the organized chaos, the thought of me – a young, inexperienced little American, hardly coherent in Hungarian – trying to make sense of the activities taking place, let alone trying to make a contribution, forced me to conclude it would be wise to wait two weeks until after the fashion shows to begin my internship.
Lucia thought differently. I was to start on Monday. Cutting out patterns was my first assignment. It seemed simple enough, but things get lost in translation and differentiating between one and one-and-a-half centimeters when speaking Hungarian is more challenging than it sounds. After completing that task my supervisor, Moni, told me that it was my job to "embellish" the dresses. Beads and pearls needed to be placed on the pieces and it soon became my responsibility to decide where and how they would be attached. I was surprised to be given so much creative freedom on the first day.
I didn't work the long days that most of the staff did. I came in at 11 a.m. and left at 5 p.m.. Many of the girls didn't seem to receive the credit they deserved. So much work went into getting everything to fit precisely and organizing the clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup, models, venue, music and lighting.
As the spring line's debut drew nearer, reporters and film crews wanted the scoop on what they could expect in the new line. Lucia came down one morning and asked me to go upstairs. To my surprise, a large group of cameras and reporters greeted me. I learned that it was my job to show them where to go, reveal a few select pieces from the line and tell them what I had been doing. I have no idea why they chose me to do this.
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There were four fashion shows at an incredible venue, the VAM Design Center. The collection, supposedly inspired by Scandinavia and entitled "Legends of the North," was stunning, with a color scheme of cream, gold, mint green, peach, mocha and black and featuring big ruffled collars, intricately folded origami pleats and hand-painted fabrics. It wasn't what I would have designed, but I really liked almost everything in the collection and seeing the finished product made my respect for Lucia grow tremendously.
On the surface there is surely a glamorous side to the fashion world. And though I enjoyed my time working with Lucia, I especially valued the experience of seeing all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. I didn't come back from Budapest panting to be a designer, but I did come back with a hope that I would be more appreciative of everything and everyone working to make the fashion world happen.