July 09, 2021 8 min read
Celebrating my Love Affair with Paris
On September 25th 2018, my love affair with Paris began. I left Ireland fresh out of college, brimming with bright ideas, and longing to throw myself into the glamorous world of the Paris fashion industry.
There were many roadblocks in my way. Firstly, I couldn’t speak French and therefore communicating with the locals would be a struggle. Secondly, I had no long-term job or concrete plan in place for the future. All I knew was that I was willing to do anything to fulfil my dream of working in such a magical industry.
My first job was working as a showroom assistant during Paris fashion week. I really enjoyed my time here and I made some amazing friends and memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. I remember every evening we would get an allowance to use in whatever restaurant we chose. This was my favourite part of my day, picking out the fanciest restaurant with my new friends to spend our allowances in.
After fashion week was over, I now had a major problem on my hands. The magic and glamour that I had experienced during fashion week now seemed like a distant, hazy dream that I had suddenly been woken up from. The reality was that I was completely alone in a foreign city with no job and no plan whatsoever. To say that I was frightened is an understatement.
Checking into my Airbnb that first night after fashion week, I sat down and said to myself, “Okay, shit Aoife, what are you doing?” I’m not usually one to cry but that night I sobbed myself to sleep. I thought that I had made the wrong decision and that the sensible thing to do would be to hop on the next plane home the following morning. But something in my gut made me hang on. I knew that this was my dream, and that if I didn’t pursue it now with all guns blazing, I never would.
I got up early the next morning with a completely different attitude. I remember flinging open my bedroom window and being momentarily shocked by the beauty of the soft, faded blue colour of the Parisian sky and suddenly I felt so small and minute in comparison. I stood there for a few moments, marvelling at the sight of the sharp grey point of the Eiffel Tower against this wonderful backdrop of soft, unwavering blue, and that’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to give up just yet. That same morning, my lovely Airbnb host translated my CV into French and printed off a few copies for me to hand out. With every fashion house I knew marked on my phone map, I set off around Champs Elysees ringing random bells and knocking on every fashion house that I could find. I remember pausing every now and again every time that I passed a big brand fashion store and gazing into the windows to drool over the cuts and fabrics, and that’s when I realised that this really was my dream, and that Paris was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Two weeks passed and I was still knocking on doors and emailing my CV and portfolio to every fashion brand that I could think of. I didn’t hear anything back during that first week, but then I finally started to get some interviews. I had hoped that my lack of French wouldn’t be a big deal and I found that in most fashion houses, it wasn’t. However, it was necessary in some. I remember walking into those interviews, my heart hammering inside my chest and my palms sweaty with nerves. The interviews usually began with something like this:
“Bonjour, Ca va? Je m’appelle Aoife. Parlez Vous English?”
Finally, I landed my first job as an assistant stylist. It wasn’t quite my dream role; it wasn’t in design, and it wasn’t paid, but I was delighted that I was finally getting my foot in the door in the industry. I was working with an English stylist based in Paris, and at first I found it incredibly hard. Her manner was demanding and cold, and I often found myself questioning my initial decision to stay in Paris. However, after a few weeks we began to warm to each other as two strangers working in a foreign city often do. I worked for her for the duration of my first two months in Paris, while also working part-time in a showroom. Whenever I had a moment to myself, I always found myself drifting towards hidden side-streets and alcoves to explore the mesmerising fabric shops that Paris is renowned for.
During this time I reconnected with a model whom I had worked with during fashion week who had recently returned to Paris. I turned 23 that October and the two of us spent a perfect day wandering around the labyrinthine Parisian streets. There was something beautiful in the simple act of taking some time out and absorbing the raw beauty of the centuries-old city, which, until now, I had been too focused on work to enjoy. I still remember gazing longingly at the achingly beautiful architecture surrounding me while the smell of freshly baked pastries mingled with the tinkling sound of music in the air. That evening we sat together watching the glowing orange sun dipping lower and lower in the sky, both of us completely captivated by the sight of the bold, bloody sky washing the Parisian skyline in gorgeous shades of hot-pink, coral, and delicately pale blues. After that night I made sure that I always made time to watch the sunset every day because it reminded me that no matter how awful my day had been, the sun would still set that evening and rise again in the morning, and that I too could rise again from whatever horrible thing I was experiencing. For me, watching the sunset each evening was a moment of pure, perfect bliss.
The week after my birthday, I decided to find another job. The styling was becoming quite repetitive, and I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I at least tried to find something else. I got an exciting interview for ‘Lacoste’ and got through three rounds of interviews, but unfortunately, I wasn’t offered the job. However, as one door closes another always opens. The day after I found out that I hadn’t gotten the job with Lacoste, I got hired on the spot with a PR company, and let’s just say that it wasn’t long before I found out why they hired me so quickly. I lasted two weeks before I quit — this was the first job that I had ever quit in my life — and although it was scary to quit I didn’t see this as me giving up, I saw this as me standing up for myself and not allowing myself to be treated poorly. I remember on one occasion I made myself a coffee before work and one of my bosses appeared out of nowhere and snatched the cup out of my hand. She scolded me for using what she referred to her “her cup,” and told me that people are not allowed to drink coffee before the workday begins.
This was just one such incident that occurred while I was working there. The following week, I handed the same woman my notice and walked out of there with a smile on my face, knowing that I had made the right decision to leave. I think that this was a lesson that I needed to learn the hard way. The whole experience, although it was not a wholly good one, forced me to recognise my own self-worth and to realise that no job is worth being unhappy for.
November was a much better month for me. I settled into a job assisting in a small fashion house, moved out of my Airbnb into a room with one of my friends I had interned with in Marc Jacobs in New York (yes—a room! Paris is an incredibly hard place to find accommodation in!) and I made friends with two Irish people who really reminded me of home. I also came home for the first time since I emigrated to surprise my sister for my nephew Harry’s christening. The trip home made me realise how much I adored Paris, but it also made me see Ireland in a whole new light. Suddenly, I found myself appreciating the vibrant green colour of our lush, rolling fields and the peaceful tranquillity of a quiet afternoon walk in the countryside much more than I would have done before I left. While I was at home I got called to do an interview for a corporate wear job, but I thought that my chances of getting it would be very slim as I would be up against much more experienced and established designers.
When I returned to Paris, December was rolling in quickly. I was finally starting to feel at home, and with the twinkling Christmas lights strung up around the city and the brisk cold weather really starting to set in, I fell further in love with the beauty of Paris. Things were finally slotting into place for me and although I was working two jobs— assisting during the week and back working with the stylist that I had worked with previously on the weekends— I always ensured that I made time for myself and to enjoy everything that the City of Lights had to offer. A few weeks later I got an email to say that I had been offered the job with the corporate wear company, and that they wanted me to return home ASAP. I was completely shocked by this and was faced with the dilemma of staying in Paris and trying to keep chasing my dreams or embarking on a new journey in Ireland where I would have a little more freedom and power over my own life.
After much deliberation, I eventually decided to return home. This was possibly the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make, but in the end, I decided to follow my gut and take the job at home. When I look back on my time in Paris I don’t think of it as just another adventure, but rather an experience that taught me a lot of difficult lessons. I learned how to stand my ground and when to use my voice to stand up for myself, but I also learned when to be quiet and take instruction. My time in Paris taught me so many important life-lessons and gave me so many memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Little did I know back then that only a few short years later I would return with my own fashion label and be showcasing my AW20 collection at Paris Fashion Week right around the corner from where I once worked. Standing up there on that stage after the show all of those old memories came flooding back to me and for the first time in my life, I really began to understand and believe in the phrase “everything happens for a reason.”
In my Paris edit, I am taking you through my journey in Paris, ups and downs included. My journey taught me that life has a plan for each and every one of us, all we have to do is show up and never lose hope.