The Lost Collar



250 W. 55th Street NY, NY 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

The world of magazine publishing in New York is extremely competitive. No matter how talented one is an editor or a writer, one must have contacts in the industry to obtain that first, entry-level job. Mrs. Carpati, my landlady, happened to work at Cosmopolitan in ad sales, and she was glad to introduce me to Hearst Magazines. I got lucky and Carpati got a referral bonus.

Memories of working for Hearst still linger: the Soup Nazi lines across the street, smoking in front of the building with fellow nicotine addicts, peering into the Good Housekeeping product testing lab where they issue those seals of approval, getting lazy and falling into a cab rut, taking taxis to and from work for a solid six weeks or so and putting them on your boss’s expense report.

This is a story of 1995 to 1997, the beginning of my career in the industry. Editorial jobs are hard to find, but there are always openings, it seems, for sales assistants in the advertising department. I spent one year at Esquire magazine working for a bitch of a woman, whose shrewd business sense, selling page after page of advertising to Gucci and Movado, I actually admired. She put me through her own personal hell, blowing up at me for no reason, except possibly to de-stress (she was going through a breakup). I stayed long enough to learn the business side of magazine publishing and to perfect my “No, I am not going to fetch your mineral water for you” look, and then landed an editorial assistant position at Sports Afield.

Sports Afield is a hunting and fishing magazine, but had a forward-thinking and ambitious editor. Naturally, I would have liked to work at about 50 magazines other than Sports Afield, but sometimes an experience you are hesitant about trying turns out to be quite satisfying anyway. Sending me on a fishing trip to the Florida Keys helped build their case.

I wrote pieces on such foreign topics as hiking boots, tents, energy bars, women in hunting and fishing, plus compiled my own section for the magazine, a calendar of events. I had the rare opportunity to edit an article written by a professor I once had at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as an entire wild food cookbook. I learned this much: one of the best ways a writer can train is to write well about subjects they have no interest in.

After over two years working for Hearst Magazines, I landed a job at Marie Claire, Hearst’s newest venture. During my interview, the fledgling magazine’s seasoned British editor promised to gain me admittance to Isaac Mizrahi’s fall fashion show. I accepted the job and went to the show, Unzipped replaying vividly in my head. I was passionate about fashion shows and had wheedled my way into about 30 or so already, but none this big. They must have known to reward me beforehand for how bad the job was going to suck.

I worked until 11 pm some evenings and had to work on a freelance basis, wherefore my health benefits were discontinued. Besides those things, besides dodging daggers thrown by diabolical co-workers, and besides the dog collar incident, work at Marie Claire was fairly tolerable, however. I reported to the Fashion Market Director, who would have been a fabulous role model if I had wanted her job. I didn’t want her job, though, and I didn’t want mine either.

I was on the phone constantly, calling designers for clothing samples to be used at photo shoots. I Polaroided and color-copied, organized look books, unpacked clothing and hung them on racks, and organized the fashion closet. Our interns were on hiatus; it was my job to hire them someday in my spare time. I trafficked clothing samples to Europe and beyond and back and if something was lost, stolen or crunched the blame fell on my head. This was so not journalism. The part of me trained in literary non-fiction was suffocating. I never wanted to hear the word carnet again.

The problem with working in fashion editorial: If the designers don’t want you to have the outfit or would rather have it worn by Mariah to the Grammys than appear in your magazine, you’re not getting the clothes. Editors were required to put on this sick act of being best friends with the designers and their PR department, or else they weren’t getting the clothes. On the other hand, if the designer advertises in the magazine, you’re using the clothes in the fashion spread whether you like them or not. I found myself thinking, when am I actually going to write a word about fashion?

At the end of the day, was when. After hours, my boss would have me collaborate with her, writing copy and digging for slides for the next fashion spread. Caption writing was my favorite part of the job, but there wasn’t enough of it. I truly liked my boss, she was Italian and called me Michelina, however she was totally ESL, which can be challenging in a collaborative writing situation. I wanted to be a real editor, is what I wanted. You know, the kind that edits articles of words, not articles of clothing. Ultimately I felt misled as to what my responsibilities would be, overwhelmed by the hours, and dismayed to find that the pettiness of the fashion world was not an illusion. For me, the glamour was gone.

On an otherwise uneventful afternoon, amidst racks of clothing, stylists shouting to see their run-throughs, and half-dressed editors trying on the new fall styles, the mail boy delivers a box from Marie Claire’s Paris office. The box is addressed to the Fashion Director, my boss’s boss, but when it sits for most of the day, I open it, and distribute the slides and fashion accessories to the accessories dept. as per usual.

Later on, the director’s assistant, who’d been out combing ten different delis for a special kind of doggie biscuit for her boss’s Jack Russell, comes over and asks what happened to the custom made dog collar designed specially for Jack, all the way from Paris. Jack was always in the office and appeared in the pages of the magazine frequently, frolicking with this or that model. To make a long story short, the leather accessory that I relinquished earlier to the accessories dept. was intended for the dog. Whoever I had handed it over to had in turn “lost” it. What really was going on: The other fashion assistants were hiding the dog collar to get me in trouble. Mean, spiteful girls! This caused quite the scandal.

No, I was not fired, only practically reduced to tears by a screaming Frenchwoman, who, after she calmed down and the dog collar was found, sympathized with me. I tried to hang on after that, but eventually found myself faxing my resignation to the editor in chief, out of town on vacation. I resolutely refused to give notice, just calmly explained that I was quitting that evening and not returning. I could not get out of there fast enough.

The next day I called the photojournalist Jill Krementz, my neighbor, with whom I had a standing job offer. I started working with her. I emerged a year later and returned to the magazine industry as a freelance fact-checker at Elle. The bottom of the ladder, but finally a real job with real respect.

Rate Story
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

§ 2 Responses to “The Lost Collar”

§ Leave a Reply

Other Stories You May Like

Nearby Midtown Stories

Bear Patrol


The door to Karen’s office was open and I waved a little hello as I entered, indicating that I would [...]

The Man in the Pinstriped Suit

by Thomas Beller

I was reading the fall issue of Esquire Gentleman recently, experiencing the slightly pleasing, slightly lulling sensatio

The Slump at Shea

by Thomas Beller

Things are not looking good for the Mets right now, but in the summer of 1993, they were looking worse.

Calling Mr. Spinoza


Pregnant for the first time, the empathy that Ross feels for another young mother may or may not lead to unforeseen consequences

Marv Albert and The Stoop to Nowhere

by Thomas Beller

My mother, as much as she was exposed to sports, couldn't tell you a thing about it.