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Stories of ordinary madness from the Milanese fashion world

We spoke to some young creatives about their most agonizing experiences with power in the local industry

Stories of ordinary madness from the Milanese fashion world We spoke to some young creatives about their most agonizing experiences with power in the local industry

We all know the story behind Meryl Streep’s award-winning performance in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada. If you haven’t seen the movie yourself, you surely wouldn’t have been able to miss the numerous meme references made throughout the years of the magnate that was Miranda Priestly and her pitiful assistant, Andrea. The 16-year-old film, rumoured to be based on Vogue America’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, has become a somewhat problematic staple in the fashion industry. Many people think of the film as a light humorous commentary on the industry but what some fail to realise is that the story in itself was a glorification of emotional abuse and to an extent manipulation as well. 

Issues like these serve as a modern-day reality for many of the industry’s young up and coming talent while fashion editors, stylists and industry insiders used and still continue to use these standards as guidelines to affirm their success. Throughout the last decade, many young creatives on their journey into the industry are still being sold the idea that being treated like nothing, with little or no compensation is all a part of the job and are expected to humbly accept this as a fact. We reached out to a few young creatives in the industry to find out some more about their experiences of emotional abuse within the industry. 


The She-Vampire who didn't pay salaries

“I worked closely with a woman in the Milanese industry and I can’t count how many times I’ve been abused mentally and emotionally to feel like I was shit and needed her to survive. Sometimes she would call me at 7AM (2 hours before workday) to threaten me. She is pure psychopathic evil and in the full period I worked for her, she never paid me one salary and in the end she made me chase her clients personally to eventually get a miserable sum for myself. She took advantage of the fact that I was illegal in this country to allure me to work like a slave for free in the promise of a contract that never arrived.”

- Anonymous intern

"Hide the fat one in the kitchen"

“When I first started working as a dresser, for a multi-brand showroom in the industry a couple years ago, I witnessed behaviour that I never quite expected. During the press days we weren’t given any specific uniform but were told to wear either full black or white. On one of the days, my colleague came dressed in a white blouse with a back cutout that exposed a part of her back. When the owner came he began to complain about the girl’s weight and it not being a part of the brand’s image, he was much more upset about her weight than he was about the blouse. He locked her in the showroom’s kitchen for 3-4 hours while he ordered an XXL white t-shirt for her to wear.”

- Anonymous dresser

The Stingy One

“My first experience was as an unpaid intern at a fairly well known publication in Milan. My duties were mainly to pick up clothes for photoshoots where I had to travel to 6-7 different showrooms around the city. The first time I did it I was eager to work so I didn’t ask any questions but just went ahead, and I ended up struggling with over 10 bags of clothes on the metro. The second time I decided to take a taxi and  afterwards I asked my supervisor for a reimbursement and her response was that she couldn’t provide me with reimbursement because I didn’t let her know first. The third time I asked for before leaving and I was told ok it would not be a problem. When I came back with the receipt and asked for a reimbursement, she told me that the receipt looked fake and that either way I was not yet at the level to receive reimbursements because in fashion you have to pay your dues to the industry before expecting anything in return.”

- Anonymous intern 

The Handmaid's Tale

“There was a fashion producer I worked with only two years ago. Although she told me I would be doing things like going to fashion events and meeting new people, I mainly did work like pick up her laundry, get her lunch, and even once pick up her daughter from school. One evening we were at the office working late on figuring out a solution for a project and because I didn’t eat lunch that day I wanted to order dinner so I asked her if she wanted anything. She responded asking me if I thought I deserved food knowing that I didn’t complete the task. I explained to her that I didn’t eat lunch and that I was hungry and she threatened me saying that if I ordered anything before we finished that I would be fired and not be paid. This was only one of the many crazy encounters I had with her. “

- Anonymous intern 

Guerilla Marketing

"When I signed my first intern contract for a magazine in the city, I was told that I would take part in marketing and promotion activities. Of course I thought it was about learning something about marketing: I was wrong. My bosses put me and another colleague to fly at the station for their absurd promotional material - and they forced us to do it early in the morning, even in the middle of winter, exposed to the cold and frost for hours. After a while it was clear that they didn't have the money to pay real promoters. They also scolded us when they thought we hadn't cleared them well enough - even through threatening phone calls. Once they forced us to deliver thousands and thousands of pamphlets during the Fuorisalone, during the weekend and under the beating sun. One of the girls felt sick and had to go home. Later, one of them asked one of my colleagues not to report overtime in the reporting of working hours he had to do at her university."

- Anonymous intern

The Racist

“It started for me landing me in a maelstrom of toxicity listening day in and day out to the verbal abuse of assistants, the fat shaming of potential young female interns, and emotional manipulation of everyone around her to bend them to do her bidding backed up with threats to ruin our reputations and destroy our careers in Milan. It’s a chapter I’m relieved to be finally closing the door on. Having to chase someone for months to receive a paycheck that thinks she as a white woman should be able to say the N word and that “nobody wants transgender women to advertise anything to real women” , someone that tries to take credit for anything you do or achieve on your own, someone who crushes yours and others self esteem in order to build herself up now reinvented as an activist is not someone that is conducive to any sort of future I see for myself if I want to be part of progress and change.”

- Louis Pisano, writer


The most unfortunate part of this is that a lot of these cruel offences aren’t punishable by law as emotional abuse isn’t technically against the law.  According to law firm Scott Wagner & Associates, in order to file a workplace harassment lawsuit or claim, you must be a member of a protected group and you’d likely need to show that you experienced abusive behaviour based on Race, Colour, Religion, Sex, National Origin, Age or Disability,  and many of these incidents have occurred outside of those boundaries.

At the moment, the most powerful tool that victims of emotional abuse in the industry have on their side is the use of social media. Although things are slowly improving, it will still take a while for the industry to entirely let go of the idea of using cruelty as a method of teaching, but with this new age of digital transparency, many are being given the opportunity to speak out in a way that raises awareness also comes with real consequences of financial and opportunistic loss for their abusers.

The reality is that fashion is in need of a more effective filtering system which supports and ensures the safety of it’s younger counterparts in ensuring that they are not being taken advantage of, not only on an emotional level but also physically, financially and sexually. However, until then, we must listen when they speak and do all we can to make the industry a much more appealing space.