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Fashion is just not good for your mental health Thoughts on the emotional and financial stress of working in the industry ALEC LEACH

I saw some amazing things at Paris fashion week back in the day. Raf Simons fall/winter 16, the one with the huge moth-eaten knits and even bigger puffer jackets. That same season, Dries Van Noten showed in the cavernous backstage area of the Palais Garnier opera house, which was somehow even more huge and spectacular than the front of house. I still think about the Margiela show from that season as well, with the long drapey coats mixed with motocross gear. Basically every Rick Owens show was an experience in its own right. I loved seeing Haider Ackermann, even when it was so dark that you couldn’t see the clothes. Ann Demeulemeester was a moment of calm that I always cherished. I saw plenty of celebrities as well (Kanye and Kim are so short IRL).

Going to Paris twice a year was pretty much the most exciting thing that ever happened to me, and I’m still so grateful that I had the opportunity to do it, especially when I was in my 20s. Burnout, mental health and quality of life were pretty abstract concepts to me back then, but even so, after a few years in the heart of the machine, I couldn’t take the stress anymore. 

My last season on the London-Milan-Paris fashion week circuit was SS19, so it’s been over five years since I left it all behind, and I’m not sure I miss it. The good old days where fashion week was all about creativity and radical expression are well and truly over. The luxury prices have shot up higher and higher, and even the invitations are somehow more excessive. Nowadays, the only fashion week I regularly go to is Copenhagen, which has done an impressive job of facing up to some of the industry’s urgent issues. (For transparency, CPHFW pays for my hotel and travel when I go.)

I was in Copenhagen a few weeks ago for fashion week, and this time my girlfriend came with me for a few days. Getting an outsider’s perspective of fashion week was pretty eye-opening — How do all these people have so much luggage? Why don’t they smile at the hotel? Don’t they know they’re staying here for free? Angi couldn’t help but point out just how up and down the whole thing was for me. There’s no simple contentment at fashion week — I was either energized or exhausted, excited or drained. Now that I’m back to my real life in Berlin, I can’t help but think about how fashion week — actually, just working in fashion in general — is catastrophically bad for your mental health. 

This is not an industry that’s well known for treating people well. Fashion’s obsession with status was a big theme in my book, and there’s a general attitude that working in the industry is such an honor that you’re lucky just to have a job. Of course, that opens the door to all kinds of shitty behaviors (we’ve all seen The Devil Wears Prada). 

Here’s how I put it in the book: 

“Fashion’s love of status is in many ways its Original Sin. The industry’s You can’t sit with us mentality is how it gets away with running brutal working environments, shielding abusive “geniuses” from being held accountable and enforcing such obscenely narrow visions of who is worthy and who isn’t (hint: it’s the white, thin, rich, straight, able-bodied and cis-gendered, all at once).”

You can imagine how that feels for people who don’t fall into the industry’s ideal body type, and even if you do, your moment won’t last for long — there’s a never-ending conveyor belt of younger, hotter people on the way.

And that’s before we talk about money. It’s funny, for an industry that is so openly consumerist, nobody talks about how they afford their lavish lifestyles. It’s an open secret that fashion is overrun with nepo babies, but if you’re not sitting on a trust fund then you’re still pressured to spend, spend, spend like the rich kids. Again, you can imagine the emotional toll that puts on people — this isn’t just a tough industry to work in, it’s one that constantly reminds you of what you’re lacking (do you own any archival Margiela? Will you ever own any archival Margiela?). Sure, comparison is an inevitable part of being human, but fashion takes it to extremes — and it’s not good for us...

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