Ever since I was a little girl watching daytime soaps, “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and all the other 80’s hits with my mom, I dreamed of being part of the world of fashion. At 14 years old, I managed to fudge my age and pass for 16 so I could work at a local evening wear store. I fell in love with the feeling of making women feel glamorous. I would not only sell an evening dress to each customer, but I would also sell the shoes, bag, bracelet, earrings and necklace to match. At 14, I was the number one sales girl of all three store locations. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a bigger part of this world that allowed everyone a moment of fantasy.
Upon completing high school and studying International Fashion Design & Marketing, I started my professional career as a receptionist working for Escada. I clearly remember my first day going to work in New York City. I visited NYC my whole life, but my first day commuting into the city from New Jersey for work was very different. My mom's best friend Shqipe offered to commute with me and show me where I needed to buy a bus pass at the Port Authority and how to go from the bus decks to the streets of New York. I woke up at 5 a.m. that day so I could get my full face on and do my hair Jersey style -- the higher the hair, the closer to heaven. I borrowed my mother’s Paloma Picasso bag because I believed I was at the height of fashion with it on my shoulder. By the time I had to meet Shqipe at the bus stop I was runway ready. I remember thinking the bus ride, traffic and all the folks on the bus made the journey less dreamy than I thought it would be. But little did I know, things were about to get crazy when I got off the bus.
At Port Authority, I was overwhelmed by the mass of people all in an epic rush to get to work or wherever they were going. I could smell the scent of fresh coffee and baked goods all around me, plus some body odor and bus fumes. Strange people were playing instruments on the off chance that someone might stop and throw some change in whatever coin receptacle they conveniently positioned on the floor. I wanted to look at everything, see everyone’s faces and stop at every kiosk to admire all the fashion magazine covers.
Just as I was trying to embrace it all, Shqipe tugged at my arm and said, “Let’s go. We have to rush.” I nervously clutched my Paloma Picasso bag in my hands as we exited the Port Authority. Suddenly, we weren’t in the smelly, scary building any more. We were on 8th Avenue where the crowds were even bigger. I quickly realized I needed to move fast and follow Shqipe, otherwise I would get trampled. We approached the traffic light where at least 30 people stood waiting to cross the street -- way more than the one or two people who would ever be waiting to cross a street in my New Jersey town. I will forever remember my feelings in that moment. My eyes flooded with tears as I looked up and realized this was where I was supposed to be. This was my future. It was like the old TV shows and movies set in NYC that I loved to watch. Everything was moving fast -- people, cars, lights. Everyone was on a mission and now, so was I -- a mission to the life I thought I could only dream of.
Shqipe dropped me off right in front of my office and assured me she would be waiting for me at the end of the day to help me make my way back home. Remember, this was far before cell phones existed, so you made a plan with someone and stuck to it. I had already been to the Escada offices for a few interviews, so I was familiar with the building and reception area, which would become my new workspace as a receptionist -- at least until I could prove that I was smart, capable, full of personality and had a great eye for fashion, at which point everyone would fall in love with me and promote me to president of the company.
Well, that’s what I thought… But the truth was that I was immature in many ways. I had the discipline from my single immigrant young mother who was also trying to navigate her way through her own dreams of coming to and living in America from a Socialist country. I was determined and driven, but I lacked direction. I made many mistakes -- actually more than many (sigh) -- and I used poor judgment in my conduct. But I did know that I was so lucky for the opportunity to work for Escada.
I loved watching all the employees come into work every day. I would marvel at their fashionable outfits and the green juices they sipped long before they were a trend. How beautiful all the employees were, how dreamy the stories they shared in the coffee area sounded -- I especially loved hearing those about vacations they took to destinations I had never heard of. I dreamed of being just like them, and I especially loved the title Account Executive. It seemed so fancy!
But the managers at Escada made me feel like I never quite fit in. I was told I was too friendly, too excited and that I needed to be more polished, a bit more serious too. After a few months as a receptionist, it didn’t seem like I was cut out for the fashion business at all. I was saying goodbye to my fashion dream, hanging my hat, throwing in the towel. “Au revoir,” Fashion World… or so I thought.
Check back next week for part 2 of Francis’ “I Dream of Fashion.”