Fashion month is here and with social media, our NYFW FOMO is cured by living vicariously through our favorite fashionistas, editors and it girls. We caught up with Charley Ukwubiwe, a 23-year old Fashion Assistant at Town & Country Magazine to give us some insight on what it’s like working for a Hearst glossy and experience as a PR girl.
What made you decide to go into fashion PR/editorial?
As cliché as it is for my generation, it started off with me watching shows like “Sex and the City,” “The Hills” and “The City,” and seeing fictional and real-life PR and editorial mavens in action. I was enthralled with their jobs (especially those of Carrie Bradshaw, Samantha Jones and Kelly Cutrone) and wanted to have lives like them. When I started interning as a teenager in high school, I realized that PR and editorial were definitely over-glamorized on television, but I still enjoyed conquering the challenges I faced, building key relationships with media, and the basic expression of designers. PR and editorial were still very precious fields to me after my TV dreams were smashed, and they still are. The excitement of not having any two days be the same is such a rush, and fashion, at its core, is just…indescribable. I love being in service to the art.
We agree, being a fashion assistant is complex and can entail many duties–what are yours? How did you land your current role?
I landed it through searching online on job boards and applying via email as instructed. I used to work in a higher position as PR Coordinator at an accessories PR agency, but I was open to my current position as a bridge to acquiring my next role, which I hope will be in PR. My duties include tracking samples, organizing the fashion closet, coordinating fashion shows and photoshoots, compiling trend and expense reports, etc.
NYC is the fashion capital of America. Has living there influenced your career choice?
For sure! My high school was filled with fashionistas. Wearing heels in a school of 4,000 students was a sign of power in those halls [laughs]. Queens girls definitely knew what they were doing. There were these two identical black twins, thin with gorgeous long, curly hair and dark skin who are now professional models — Sasha and Sable Boykin. My best friend at the time and I looked up to them so much. They ran a fashion club their senior year and our freshman year. It was the first time I met people who’s lives were completely tied to fashion and I realized that it could actually be a career for me, that there were people like me out there.
That’s amazing! Diversity and representation is so important in fashion, which is why we love your @prettyblackpress instagram account! How did the idea come about and what are your plans with it?
I thought of making the page after experiencing interviews where I knew, just KNEW, I was being judged based on the color of my skin. My whole thing is hiring workers based off of merit and skill. I talk more about my feelings on black women in fashion on my blog. I thought @prettyblackpress could be a great platform to unite and inspire black women who are in or aspire to be in PR, editorial and marketing. I hope to continue featuring women and to start discussions about things going on in our fields. I want my page to be like the @darkskinwomen page (that has cultivated 630k followers), but for black women in press-related fields.
What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you at Fashion Week?
Hmm. I’m not too sure. I saw Gigi and Bella Hadid argue backstage at Anna Sui. Very intriguing.
Wow we could only imagine! Clearly, there can be drama amongst the glitz and glam, though that’s only a portion of the job. What was the most glamorous experience of your career so far?
My most glam ✨✨ experience [laughs], was probably attending the Marc Jacobs SS17 show as a freelancer for KCD Worldwide. Although I didn’t agree with the designer having his majority white models wear dreads, the show, a part from the hair, was the most magical thing I’ve ever witnessed. From the lights to the guest list, I felt like I was in fashion heaven. I will always remember and cherish that day.
When as a PR Coordinator I didn’t have any interns in the office one day and had to pack shipments, load them into a gigantic suitcase and walk numerous blocks to a FedEx in the middle of the summer in packed Chinatown, making multiple trips to be able to drop off all packages. We didn’t use a messenger service. It was just the worst thing ever, I’m sure I lost like 5 pounds that day.
To work in PR means you must have thick skin. Amid the stress and rejection, how do you keep from feeling discouraged?
I have had interviews with some of the biggest names in fashion — the Chief Communications Officer at Condé Nast, the Executive Assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, KCD, Karla Otto, etc. I have also been rejected a ton. To keep myself from falling a part when I am rejected, I remember that I was worthy of being interviewed by these organizations and so I am a catch. I hold power with my resume and one day, just one day, the odds will work out in my favor. The odds have worked out many times for me. I’ve worked for KCD on 7 major accounts, PR Consulting for Versace and Christopher Kane, etc. Now I’m at T&C with the most wonderful staff. It’s ALL about timing, chance and networking. As with every hardship in life, you just have to keep going. If you don’t, that’s when you fail.
What advice would you give to girls who aspire to work in fashion pr or editorial?
Stay hungry and find a balance between humility and confidence. Have the thickest skin possible, and as fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone titled her lovely, vivid, sex, drugs, art and rock and roll fashion book, “If you have to cry, go outside.” This isn’t the easiest industry. It is dog eat dog and it isn’t for everyone, but if you want success in fashion badly enough and you’re willing to pull your own weight and start from the VERY bottom, lugging suitcases in Manhattan streets, even washing other people’s dishes as I have, you can make it work.
Social media is so essential in today’s world for what you do – what are your thoughts on social media – and how do you keep real (and in reality) without getting sucked into living through posts?
I make sure I take lots of trips with my best friends, even if they’re just day trips to somewhere deep in Long Island or Jersey or something. Most of my friends do not work in fashion and I love that. They keep me grounded on the fact that there is more to life than work and more to life than the industry I work in. Although I love social media and post a lot, there are tons of things I don’t post and refuse to post. Those things are the things I love the most about my life, the things that keep my real and happy. Social media only gets to see a few sides of who I am. The rest of me is reserved for my loved ones.
Be sure to follow Charley on instagram @CharleyChioma and @PrettyBlackPress for more fashion and career inspiration.
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