[Editor’s note: Samantha Wells has been a USCA Communications Intern for Bella Magazine since January. In March, she volunteered at the Lexus Charleston Fashion Week and turned that experience into an internship as well.]
I received an email from Amanda Oliver, the woman who interviewed me for the volunteer position at Charleston Fashion Week (CFW) and then acted as middleman for all my questions up until the time I left for Charleston. I was so excited and nervous to hear back from her. When I opened the email to see if I had been accepted, it read—
Congratulations! You have been selected to volunteer at Charleston Fashion Week 2017, and we’re excited to have you on the team!
My initial feelings were happiness and stress. Happiness because it was a goal of mine to be a part of Charleston Fashion week at least one time before my undergrad years ended. Stress because it was a whole week of school that I would be missing and that same week I was supposed to be competing at CANAM, a cheer competition, and didn’t want to risk letting my teammates down.
Lynsee Gonzales and Samantha Wells
With the help of my advisor, I was excused from all my classes for that time and had the opportunity of making fashion week a second internship. As far as cheerleading goes, I found out that due to circumstances, the USCA cheer team wouldn’t be competing at CANAM. Although sad that our team would not be competing, I took it as a blessing because I no longer had to choose between letting my teammates down and having to miss the opportunity of working at CFW.
The section I was assigned to as a volunteer was the Style Lounge. Oliver sent my job description via email:
“Style Lounge Duties: The Style Lounge is where guests start to really feel like a part of the experience of CFW. Volunteers will be surrounded by merchants, fashion displays, and the bar! Our staff is responsible for selling the drinks tickets to the general public and answering any questions they might have. The show will be projected in the tent so you won’t miss any action!”
To be honest, it wasn’t ideal to work the Style Lounge because I wanted to be more in the action, not selling drink tickets to guests. I wanted to be where everything official was taking place. I didn’t complain though, in view of the fact that I could have been not volunteering there at all. Little did I know that I would end up becoming much more.
At 5:45 p.m. I arrived in Charleston for my 6 p.m. orientation. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay for a hotel because I had a close friend, Sharhonda Nesbit, who lived in Charleston. In fact, she was the reason I became more than just a regular volunteer. She has worked at CFW in past years and knew someone looking for a person to be a personal assistant (PA) to VIPs coming into town for the shows. Through her recommendation, I got the promotion to PA. I was ecstatic!
My CFW boss Shari Knight was in charge of all PAs. I reported to her for orientation where I met people I would be working with all week. I became familiar with the site and where different events were taking place so I would know where to go. Before orientation ended, I was given a list of VIPs to assist personally. Knight gave me two binders containing information about my assignments, bios about my assigned VIPs, their tickets/passes for events, and their itineraries. AND my all-access pass! That was one of my favorite parts. The all-access pass allowed me to get into any tent or VIP section prohibited to other volunteers. It made me feel important and I was never questioned about where I was going.
The week of the fashion show, I finally got to meet the two women I would be assisting! Karen Lee, a model consultant for her own company, the Karen Lee Group; and Lynsee Gonzales, a modeling scout for the agency Wilhelmina. My duties were to make sure they had transportation everywhere, and to escort them to meetings, photos, interviews, and shows.
Now to some people that may not sound like a lot, but it was. Maybe not in the sense of actually having paperwork to do, but believe me when I say these women live on-the-go lifestyles, and at times I was running around with my head cut off! And I loved every second of it.
Both women were sweet, which made my job even easier and more enjoyable. I was skeptical at first because I knew how busy they would be and I wasn’t sure they would even notice me. By the end of the week I felt comfortable with them and was so grateful I had Lee and Gonzales as my VIPs.
That wasn’t the best part though. Since I had the opportunity to become a PA, I was able to sit in and listen to a lot about what was going on around me. Both women were there on business to seek potential models to sign or help build their portfolio. Lee and Gonzales had front row seats to every show with a perfect view of all the models on the runway. I was able to sit right behind them in the second row. How lucky is that?
I got to see firsthand what some only see in movies like the Devil Wears Prada or shows like America’s Next Top Model. I saw how they look for certain “qualities” in a model and what really happens behind the scenes when models are trying to get signed by an agency. I saw the happiness of the models who were signed and the sadness of others who weren’t. I saw the creativity behind every design, and the designers who made them.
Through Lee and Gonzales I was introduced to other agents from big modeling and entertainment agencies. Most of them said they loved my personality, and it was an amazing way to network.
Group of CFW volunteers gathering for a picture after the nal show in Charleston.
I think what really made this internship so phenomenal for me was the up close and personal touch. It was being able to be inches from everything and to be able to talk to these incredibly successful people from whom I gained so much insight.
I’m back in Aiken reflecting on the previous week in Charleston. My love for fashion only grew after CFW. I networked with various people to the point where I was able to meet Jill Joyce, president of Directions USA, a very prominent modeling agency. Joyce gave me her business card and told me to send her my resumé for possible job openings.
I cannot begin to explain how blessed I felt after the week was done. Thanks to the women I met there, my knowledge and passion only grew for what I loved about the fashion industry. What was supposed to be a job serving drinks to guests at the show all week turned into a full-blown assistant job for very important people in a career I would love to do. It was a huge networking experience for me. Not only that, it was something I fell in love with.
Samantha Wells is a graduating senior at the University of South Carolina Aiken with a major in communications. She did her senior internship with Bella Magazine and wants to work in the fashion industry.