Exactly one year after I moved to New York, I was wedged between two carseats, driving out of the city with my favorite Brooklynite family. A year and a week after I moved to New York, I was carrying a box full of my best friend’s clothing into the very same house I’d crashed at for my first two weeks here, helping him begin his own Big Apple journey. A year in this, the great city, has come and gone, and I have been blessedly too involved with the beloved people around me to take the time to reflect on this first year.
But it feels important to delve into here: I moved to New York for essentially the same reasons I started Unwrinkling. I wanted to engage fashion in a way that doesn’t embarrass God or thinking people, so I started a blog. Then I moved to the epicenter of the industry.
So: a year and a week and two days late, unpolished but worth remembering, are some of the things I’ve learned in my first year as a fashion professional in New York City.
1. Your first year anywhere is like freshman year all over again.
I’ve been calling the past 12 months my ‘freshman year in New York,’ and this attitude has served me well. It’s been a reminder to re-engage my best habits from the first year of college: Say yes more than you say no, at first. Be patient with the time it takes to build relationships. Remember that you’re here to learn first and foremost. Show up. Work hard. Give yourself grace to transition slowly or poorly.
2. Fashion is as gross an industry as you think.
Some of the horror stories are true: I handled earrings that cost more than my next 10 years of college debt payments. I had a supervisor reminisce about big-time editors who said they would rather hire pretty, less-articulate writers than smart, average-looking ones. I heard a former model hiring director admit that her clients wouldn’t accept black girls she sent them for shoots. I was (probably illegally) tricked into working for free during fashion week.
3. Fashion is a much better industry than you think.
Some of the horror stories are overblown: I got hired by one of the publications I had assumed I could never work for because I don’t “look the part.” I met editors who championed my writing and went to bat for my work. I paid my rent and phone and grocery bills every month with income that came mostly from writing about fashion. I found more Christians working in the industry than I imagined. I found non-Christian co-workers less weirded out by my faith (and faith-centric writing) than I would’ve guessed.
4. Proximity isn’t possession.
I saw more fashion royalty shooting street style outside the Public School show last year than I had expected to in the course of my entire life (Anna! Leandra! Bill! Iris! André! Grace! Laverne! the list goes on and on). I interviewed people for Billboard that I never would’ve expected to get on the phone with, much less meet in person. I covered my first red carpet event.
I enjoyed those opportunities, and I am so grateful for them. But I also learned that proximity to power isn’t the same as power. Proximity to money isn’t the same as having money. I may have eaten a $300 plated dinner at a charity event I covered, but the next night I was back to my 36 cent ramen dinner to make ends meet. In this way, my first year in New York has been an experiment in extremes, not living in the moderate middle so much as pinging back and forth between violently disparate ends of the spectrum.
5. New York is the Great City, but it’s also just a city.
I grew up on Meg Ryan movies and Jay Z and E.L. Konigsburg books, so New York already had a rich imaginary infrastructure in my head before I even got here. I think the fact that it’s in so many of our favorite pieces of popular art is part of what makes this city intimidating to some people. And the history of this place is truly rich—I’ve accidentally stumbled upon Alexander Hamilton’s grave and learned that The Royal Tenenbaums was filmed in a restaurant two streets over from mine and visited the angel of Bethesda from Kushner’s plays multiple times.
But the thing about New York is that, for all its magic, it’s still just a city. A big collection of people. And yes, some of those people have been the greatest artists or writers or designers of the last century, but some of those people have been janitors and construction workers and moms and baristas. New York has room for all of those experiences.
It’s comforting to know that both David Bowie and my mailman have considered this city home. Because that means there’s room here for me, too.
6. New York is a good fit.
I would’ve moved to New York regardless of whether or not it seemed like a “good fit,” because it’s where fashion is happening. When I first got here, I thought a lot about how my parents first arrived in Manila: they didn’t move across the world with their three tiny daughters because they thought the Philippines sounded like a nice place to live and raise a family. They went because they felt called and they wanted to respond to that calling. In a similar way, I wasn’t moving to New York because it seemed comfy. I went because it’s where fashion is happening, and I was committed to participation in this industry with the hope of someday helping it change for the better.
But oh, what a gift New York has turned out to be. For my soul, not just my career. Perhaps because it has more in common with my hometown than any other American city, or perhaps because I’m surrounded by diverse languages and backgrounds again after four years in a largely white Chicago suburb, or perhaps because I can go to the gallery openings of artists I follow casually after work because they all live here, or perhaps because I’m inspired by the way everyone in this city is running hard after their passions, but—I really, really love New York. I love the view of Manhattan skyline from my roof and I love eating pho’ on a bi-weekly basis and I love living with and near artists and I love seeing world-class theater and I love being surrounded by seemingly endless opportunity.
It’s been a good year, and I’ve learned a lot. Here’s hoping my “sophomore year in New York” will be just as good.