How It Began… Part III

August 2012: There I was, feet firmly placed on the ground, anxiously glancing from one side to the other… which road should I dare to choose at this unpredictable crossroad that lies ahead? A crystal ball would have shown me the consequences of this dire dilemma I had come to face, if only they existed; if only seems to be a phrase I often use when it comes to ME. I thought I knew what I was doing, I thought I was making the right decision. Some say it is the worst decision I ever made, the consequences are worse than you would want to imagine. Others say I lived the dream… until now that is. Those are the ones who believe the consequences are worth it. I ask myself, what does it really matter what others think when I am the one who has to live with the consequences of my decision every single day and potentially for the rest of my life? The frightful consequences are a constant reminder of the crossroads I once faced and how different my life could be if I had taken one step in the opposite direction.

How It Began… Part I and How It Began… Part II will lead you up to this moment in time.

September 2012: Less than one week after my ME diagnosis by Professor Powell, I began the gruelling, treacherous journey (you think I’m about to climb Mount Everest or something of a similar difficulty don’t you) leaving my tiny countryside hamlet, Whiston in Staffordshire to venture into the unknown… the big bad Kent. I’d never been to the South East before, no further than London anyway, unless we passed through Dover/Folkestone on our way to Calais to our beloved holiday destinations on the other side of the Channel. If you’re from the Midlands or from the North as people down South say we are… BTW we are not from the North! We are from the Midlands! When you think of Kent, you picture an abundance of vineyards, sun-filled seaside holidays and refined country estates (expectations definitely too high). The Medway towns, where my university campus was based couldn’t be further from what I imagined. OH DEAR! what had I got myself into?! Don’t ever go to the Medway towns, you will regret it. (Feel like people will think I’m a snob if I explain why so not going to explain why I’ll leave well alone there). There were a few perks of the town though, it wasn’t allllll bad. The Dickensian Christmas Festival was nothing like I’d seen before, this overwhelmingly extravagant Victorian style parade shut down the town, literally. The people there seriously loved/worshipped Dickens, he was born there after all. Upon the big move to Uni, I must have had great expectations to live life-like Charles Dickens did. I definitely need help – expectations of life continue to become far too unrealistic to handle.

Dickensian Christmas Festival

Dickensian Christmas Festival

Upon arriving in my new town and my new home, I was faced with my first ME obstacle. ME Specialist Powell had advised me to “avoid climbing stairs” as they had recently started to worsen my symptoms. Four flights of stairs to the top floor, aka my new home and no lift in sight, uh-oh… thank the lord for wonder women aka my mother who unpacked the car and all my worldly goods with a workout she could be proud of. I guess I didn’t have a choice but to ignore those wise words of Powells… not like I would have listened to him anyway! I was on a path to live an ME life MY way, actually it was more like I was on a path to live a life without ME.

When the immunologist, Powell diagnosed me with ME, I made the decision to ignore his words, ”don’t go to university or you will get severely sick” and soldier on, not letting ME affect my life like he said it would. I thought I had a choice in the matter and I could control IT, I later discovered that IT controls me. ME takes over like a parasite, sucking the life out of its host, slowly but surely, ensuring it’s causing pain, suffering & cognitive malfunction along the way until the host merely resembles a poor relation of the creature it once was. Later on in my story, you will see the results of how ME has manipulated my existence. It isn’t entirely bad though, countless positive experiences have happened a long the way!

I was due to begin the coveted Fashion Design course at University for the Creative Arts, also known as UCA. I have absolutely no idea how I was accepted onto this course, it must have been a miracle. Why was it a miracle??? During my interview, the interviewer (Fashion Design Course Leader) merely glanced over my portfolio and howled, “This is not fashion!!! What are you doing here? Why did you even apply for this course?!!! That’s enough… I don’t need to see any more (checks buzzing phone with urgency) Do you have any questions for me?” Err no… and I ran for it. Well, I calmly strolled out of the interview room in a nonchalant manner then when I was out of sight of crazed interviewer, I legged it with tears rolling down my face as far away from UCA as possible with plans never to return. I had spent almost a year preparing for this highly anticipated interview during my Foundation Degree in Art & Design, an interview which lasted a total of two minutes after a nine-hour journey disaster of a journey to get there. This was the art school where Tracy Emin shined, Karen Millen and Zandra Rhodes’ designs were born. What the hell was I thinking when I applied here. This is why I assumed a mistake had been made when UCAS notified me of my offer. I later learned that interviewers at art schools are known to ‘rip prospective students apart’ in order to test their resilience. The words “You won’t make it in the fashion industry if you can’t handle high levels of criticism” were later regularly drilled into my head by the fashion tutors.

Despite being accepted onto a Fashion Design course, I have never wanted to be a fashion designer. I quite simply suck at it and I don’t believe it’s something you can be taught, you are either born with it or you are not, and I am most definitely not. I only applied for that course because I knew that being close enough to London gave me the chance to make the contacts I knew I needed to, in order to ‘make it’. Another bizarre twist of fate happened when within minutes of meeting my new flat mate Rachael and learning about her course Fashion Promotion, I knew it was course meant for me. Fashion Promotion is about styling and photography, fashion film, fashion forecasting, visual merchandising (VM), fashion writing, public relations and marketing, social media, event management and creative direction. I was already working at Topshop, excelling at styling and VM so after another round of interviews and new portfolio submissions, I was accepted onto my new course! Lots of YAYS! followed this thrilling news.

During my first year of university, I managed to keep my mild ME symptoms (exhaustion after mild exertion, virus upon virus and flu-like symptoms) under control by solely focusing on university work. I was there to acquire the skills I needed to break into the fashion industry. I wasn’t there to make friends; I didn’t have enough energy to keep up with the ones I already had and I definitely wasn’t there to party. I’d been doing that since I was fifteen, and five years on, the Medway clubs were the last place I wanted to be. Even if I wanted to carry on with wild nights out, I was no longer able to. I tried it once during freshers week; I lasted two hours before severe exhaustion kicked in and my intolerance to alcohol became more apparent than ever before. Another night out a few months later at KOKO in Camden Town saw me falling asleep in the smoking area before realising I had to leave if I wanted relief from the unbearable exhaustion. After leaving early, I unfortunately saw texts from a ‘friend’ to the kind friend who had left the club with me saying, “Emma is such a wimp, she needs to man up. Come back to the club if you can.” This was the same so-called friend who had been saying to me all night, “don’t leave, just sit down for five minutes and then you won’t be tired anymore.” That is not how ME works. This was the first time I experienced how hurtful it is to encounter the wrath of those who are so ignorant when it comes to ME.

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That’s me on the left and Chloe on the right, attempting to beat ME and last through the night!

My limited capabilities for a social life charged my dedication to work even more and my time at university became a rollercoaster of work versus rest and sleep. My career was my number one. I was the ‘geek’ of the course, fashion was my speciality and this is where I thrived. Ironically I had won the award ‘most likely to drop out of university’ at our 6th Form Leavers Ball. That was probably due to my track record of skipping weeks of school at a time (academia wasn’t for me) but at university when at the end of the year, the course leader arranged us in order of attendance, I was front and centre, 99% attendance, star pupil and very annoying to the rest of the class.

Attending a creative university was nothing like attending your usual British universities. This was different, it was fashion and ‘mean girls’ was real life. I didn’t know bullying existed in adulthood until I unfortunately became the target on three separate occasions, in three separate terms with three different bullies.

Bully: It’s not fair, you haven’t been at university for two months (due to ill-health) and you got an A and I’ve been here every day and I’ve got a B. This is so typical. The tutors always give you As.

Me: (hear whispering and my name being mentioned) What are you guys talking about? Bully: What grade did you get Emma? Me: An A. Bully: I’m happy for you that you got an A but you don’t deserve it. I can’t believe they gave you an A. Me: Why, what grade did you get? Bully: I got an A too, it’s just unfair that you got one.

Bully: Staffordshire! Staffordshire! (throws ball of paper at my head) Are you coming out tonight? Me: No, it’s not really my scene going out in the Medway towns. Bully: Maybe that’s because of the people you choose to hang out with or maybe it’s a reflection of your personality… Me: or maybe you’re just a bitch. Bully: OOOOOO no you didn’t! Your’e gonna wish you didn’t say that. (sidekick stands up swearing at me) Let’s take it outside. Now! Come on, get up! Me: I’m not going to fight you. Bully: (still trying to fight me, beginning to realise HE is making an embarrassment of HIMSELF). We could have been friends you know so you better watch out because I’m going to make your life a living hell from now on (later found out HE and HIS posse beat up their flat mate and she dropped out of uni after they threatened to do it again if she told anyone). Yes that was a guy who tried to fight me!

How could these people be so horrible to me? What had I ever done to them? I quickly learned that everyone was in it for themselves. Jealousy and competition fuelled the burning fires and developing a thick skin was the only way to survive the brutal environment I found myself in. “Ignore the bullies, they will not succeed. You will see them struggle and fail. I doubt they will even make it through to the next year. Stick with the group you have. You and a handful of others are the only ones who will make it, you will see.” These unexpected words from the most agreeable, calm and peaceful tutor ensured that I stuck to the few friends I had like glue.

Brain Fog has now set in and it could be days or weeks before I am able to write again so I’m going to finish this post with a hint to the next. There was one more piece of the puzzle left for me to conquer and it proved to be my downfall with ME. Let the battle of the internships begin

Brain Fog is a common symptom of ME and is described by Dr Sarah Myhill as, ‘What allows the brain to work quickly and efficiently is its energy supply. If this is impaired in any way, then the brain will go slow.’ 

What she means by brain fog:

  • Poor short-term memory
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Poor mental stamina and concentration – there may be difficulty reading a book or following a film story or following a line of argument
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Thinking one word, but saying another

You can read more about it here http://drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/Brain_fog

I hope it doesn’t last too long and I can share the next part of my journey with you soon!

Hunting for Modernity (first week at UTS)

So here is another post taken from the blog I have to write for my university back home while I’m away on exchange…

My first week of classes has been an exciting week! Australia is similar to the American ‘College’ System so when I was applying to study here I had no idea how the subject system worked because we get to choose everything we do unlike in the UK where you choose one course and everyone does the same work. There are about 500 students on the exchange programme so during an Exchange Welcome I got the opportunity to change my major to Journalism which means I will be studying two core communication subjects, Ideas in History and Understanding Communication along with students from all different communication majors and I will be majoring in Journalism where I’m studying the subject Introduction to Journalism. I’m really happy about this because I am applying for internships at the magazines here in the Australian Winter/English Summer so majoring in Journalism will be beneficial. Also they have CV sessions here like they do at UCA but the CV’s in Australia couldn’t be more different so I will attend those sessions until I score an internship.

The structure of the timetable is also particularly different; each week I have a one hour lecture per subject and a two hour tutorial per subject. We have jumped straight into the subjects and have been assigned our first assignments for the core subjects. In Understanding Communication we have to interview a Communicator so that could be a producer for the ABC or a journalist at the Sydney Herald Tribune. I would like to interview a fashion editor and I have made friends with a journalist who lives in the same apartment block as me which proves that networking and making contacts is often beneficial in some way. We also have to write a reflective blog which I have had practice with already from the UCA blog and my personal blog so I feel comfortable doing this.

Ideas in History is similar to the contextual studies lectures and seminars I have previously done at UCA, the only difference is that there are 850 students studying this subject! The main topics for the semester are modernism and postmodernism so I feel at an advantage because I already have some knowledge about these movements. For my first assessment I have to find a site and discuss the changes in thinking of the site over time. My initial ideas are a fashion showroom called The Stables or the Tom Dixon Studio in Sydney (below).

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I’m in the process of writing a research book about my ideas which I am confident in doing after working on research techniques with Pat at UCA. Each week we have a U:Pass session for Ideas in History where students who have completed the subject assist us with our studies which I believe will be beneficial to this difficult subject. We were also given letters in the tutorial from previous students containing their advice about the subject (below).

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The first week of Introduction to Journalism was slightly different to the core subjects because all of the tutorial classes were combined for a day of workshops. We were introduced to UTS journalism graduates who all had very successful jobs which had come from internships; I found this inspiring because the oldest graduate was only 22 years old and it made me realise that doing all of these internships will hopefully pay off and get me a job.

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It has dawned on me that I know absolutely nothing about Australian current affairs after a surprise pop quiz so I need to get up to date by reading all of the important Australian newspapers. We also learnt how to write a basic news article which I remember doing in primary school and writing my blog has given me more confidence in my writing. To finish off the week we formed a giant circle, linking arms while chanting the Journalist’s Code of Ethics…

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All in all it was a fantastic week and I now feel inspired, motivated and determined to find myself a good journalism internship, perhaps at the Sunday Style Magazine because it is fashion based but connected to a newspaper. We are given many written assignments so I’m attending library workshops about referencing, plagiarism and referencing tools UTS offer because they use a different referencing system to UCA. Mostly I am nervous about the amount of academic texts we are given to read each week but hopefully after learning to critically analyse texts at UCA I won’t find it as difficult as I’m currently thinking.

Backstage at London Collections: Men

For this fashion season (menswear) I worked at Kokontozai (KTZ) Autumn/Winter 2014 for London Collections: Men (LCM)…

On the day of the show I woke in the early hours of the morning with a mixture of fear and excitement, the adrenaline was enough to stop me from returning to my dreamy sleep. Up I bounced when I realised I had no idea what I was going to wear (the same as most days but today was not any old day). After quickly visualising an outfit using the rules we had been sent from KTZ – all black, no jewellery and no excessive make-up, I attempted to slow myself down so I wasn’t a nervous wreck waiting for two hours until it was time to leave. My plan didn’t go too well because I was even ready before Ugly Betty was due on (it must have been early).

I still didn’t want to be waiting around for hours so I hopped on the tube, eager to explore the show space and its surrounding area. At Russell Square I admired the beautifully grand Russell Hotel, which brought back fond memories of my mother and I nosy-ing around the hotel to get a good look at the famous guests during the times she resided here. I arrived at Bloomsbury Square, greeted by the ornately traditional building Victoria House, which was also the KTZ show space. After trying to worm my way in through the front entrance to get some sneaky snaps of the fashion lot waiting for the shows, I was kindly escorted by a man who resembled Liam Neeson in Taken, all suits and ear pieces in tow, to the backstage entrance which was full of other young fashion interns stumbling their way around.

You can tell who the other dressers are because they look no older than 18, legs crossed, arms folded, usually about twenty or so of them and every one of them are standing their in silence. Awkward to say the least. I can’t stand these awkward silences between new interns so I introduced myself to two pretty Asian girls, one from Singapore who is studying Creative Direction at LCF and the other from China who is studying Lingerie Design at De Montfort. It’s rare you meet other interns at shows that don’t study design (I study Fashion Promotion) so I was pleasantly surprised to see that for once I wasn’t the only intern lacking in the design credentials. Another intern had come from interning at Columbia Records who had decided ‘to give fashion a go’ and a cutesy wutsey pigtails girl from Poland who I shared stories with about my trip there last summer. Communicating with interns is the only way you find out the secrets of the fashion world. You either get interns who are too proud of the people they work for to slate their bosses (you will never hear me say a bad word about J.W Anderson) or those who tell more than their fair share, on this particular occasion I was warned to NEVER intern at PPQ.

Anyway on with the show ! I know that on show day you have to expect to be shouted at, a lot (for doing nothing wrong). To be very confused because you have 10 different people telling you ten different things and to stand around waiting for an unusually long time watching everyone else run around whilst feeling very useless, until you are bombarded with hundreds of tasks at once. There is pressure, a lot of it. No one wants to be the intern that screws up on show day. Three models were assigned to me, all equally as good looking as the next. Ladies man Tom from Cambridge (Kate Moss’ latest playboy shoot was his screensaver), the one with the beard (hipster or what..) and Jacob from Texas (my personal favourite). There was a lot of charming going on and the typical ‘oh my god I love your accent.. it’s so British.. you know because your British do you wanna come to the after party with me..’ In my head my response was something along the lines of, ‘oh my gosh yes I would absolutely love to go with you but I have this really boring thing called uni tomorrow because we don’t all live a glam life like you’ but out came a feeble laugh and my poor attempt at changing the conversation.

Despite all the glamour, I couldn’t think of a worse job than to be a model. I actually felt sorry for them having to wait in a room the size of a classroom, 200 people over capacity, whilst they were head to toe in Arctic furs. One of my models had five workers simultaneously fanning him so he didn’t pass out on the runway. Others complained of the heavy silver body paint, the lack of water, the high temperatures and having to replace their current contact lenses with black ones. Great ! Blind models were being sent down the runway ! The clothes aren’t to my usual taste but that doesn’t mean I’m not obsessed with them. The entire KTZ team was dressed head to toe as if they had just stepped out of the latest street style blog. I don’t think the dress code applied to them seeing as most of them wore twenty pairs of eyelashes, studs coming out of every piece of skin available and layers of printed clothing over more studs ! After dressing all three of my models and blowing in their faces to cool them down (yes I actually did that) the show went by in a heart beat; the heavy base blasted through the walls as we watched the army of Arctic Warriors pace onto the runway with light bulbs flashing in every direction. (We were lucky enough to watch the show on a giant screen backstage). After the founder took his long awaited bow, claps of joy and generous hugs filled the crowd. Emotions were running high and before we knew it, it was all over again until next season. The crowds dispersed, models left for Milan, hair and make up teams moved on to the next show and the KTZ team were given five minutes to evacuate the area before Nasir Mazhar moved in. All in all it was a wonderful day, I even spotted my favourite blogger Alice Point ( http://alicepoint.com/ ) on the front row. KTZ kindly invited me to return for the women’s show in February but I will be half way across the world by then preparing for Sydney Fashion Week !

Take a look below at the three fabulously monochrome looks I dressed: Look 5, Look 26 and Look 37..

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To see the full collection visit..

http://www.style.com/fashionshows/complete/F2014MEN-KTZ

and make sure you follow KTZ on Instagram @kokontozai and Twitter @ktz_official to see the likes of Cara Delevinge, Rihanna and Kanye West endorsing the brand.

Religion Clothing Intern Opportunity

      Only a week after moving my entire life from my flat in Camden back home to my countryside barn conversion in Staffordshire, I found myself back down South in London, the day after attending one of Cambridge’s notorious Summer balls. Whilst attempting to pull myself together for the evenings occasion, I received a phone call from the head of Marketing and Social Media at Religion Clothing asking me to intern for them.
     Funnily enough, I had worked with this girl at my local golf club back home in Staffordshire when I was fourteen years old and had met up with her when I moved to London the year before to ask for her advice on internship opportunities so when I received the phone call I didn’t know whether to be over the moon or break down in tears at the thought of interning again after the experience I had at J.W. Anderson. She wanted me to meet the Head of Sales within the hour but due to how I felt and looked from the night before I expressed that this wouldn’t be the best idea. I was on a time limit anyway as I was taking my friend to see Aluna George at Electric Brixton for her birthday that evening (aren’t I a good friend!) so the meeting was post-poned to the following morning.
      The Head of Sales told me I would be starting on Monday (it was a Friday), which gave me two days to find somewhere to live in London. I had JUST moved back home the weekend earlier so I was apprehensive to tell my parents they had to do the big move all over again! The only problem was that I had to be at home for the weekend as I was doing a photoshoot for singer Alexandra Jayne so how on earth was I supposed to find somewhere to live? Fortunately I knew someone who had a spare room available for rent just a ten minute walk from Religion HQ.
      I had somewhere to live and now I had to wait/dread to see what the working hours would be. Today was my first day and lets just say working in PR is a lot less stressful than working in a pattern cutting studio/for a designer. Since the brand, Firetrap dissolved, Religion Clothing has been the go to brand for many stockists; so my day consisted of phoning Firetraps old stockists to get them on board and buy Religion Clothing… that is all I can tell you for the moment but hopefully I will be able to tell you more about the brand and what goes on inside a show room soon!

J.W. Anderson here we go again!

      So now I have finished my first year of university and I have the entire Summer ahead of me so what better to do than gain some more experience, working for free, YAAAAY. I already can’t wait for interning to be over so I can be in a paid job. Only two more years of uni to go and fingers crossed it will happen!
      I’m back interning at J.W. Anderson and this time we are working on the womenswear Resort 2014 collection and the menswear Spring/Summer 2014 collection. In the six months since I last interned here, they have moved to a much bigger studio and the staff have tripled in size. I thought this meant they were doing a little better and would be relying on interns less but this was not the case. As the company had grew, the demands became even higher than before and interning was even crazier than the last time.
      This week has been as I expected, long crazy hours running from factory to factory. Some people think I’m insane for working the hours we do but it is worth it when you get to see the collection go down the runway, taking the fashion world by storm. Some of the highlights of my first week have included going to Selfridges Head Office to deliver garments for a photo shoot which was exciting seeing behind the scenes of Selfridges and observing how it is run. Other bonuses include working in the studio next to the band, The Horrors and eating lunch with them on the studio roof tops but the best part of my week is continually seeing fashion designer, Simone Rocha around the studios !
      My favourite part was seeing the finalised Resort 2014 and getting to watch Jonathan and his stylist Benjamin Bruno do the fittings on German model Josephine Van Delden, which is where the collection really came to life. Johnathon is obbsessed with Japanese minimalism, using its wrapping and folding techniques. Jonathan continues to push boundaries but still makes the clothes relatable and wearable, which is where he finds his success.