Diary of an Anonymous Fashion Assistant, Entry 6: A Model Meltdown and Champagne at the Chateau

Here’s the latest Diary of an Anonymous Fashion Assistant entry, where our contributor, who shall henceforth be known as Blair Mercer, dishes about th

Here’s the latest Diary of an Anonymous Fashion Assistant entry, where our contributor, who shall henceforth be known as Blair Mercer, dishes about the daily life of a fashion assistant at a major fashion mag at a major publishing house. She’s hauled sacks of Louboutins through the Sahara, been wrestled by Colonel Gaddafi’s guards at a five star hotel in Paris and was physically scarred by an A-list celeb. She’ll tell you all about it.

Setting off from London this time, we’ve been shooting a three-part ad for a famous champagne brand. Having done the first two parts in England, it’s going to culminate in an extravagant recreation of a grand ball in the brand’s French chateau. Fashion Director (FD) and I are struggling under the weight of 18 trunks and I enlist the help of English Best Friend (EBF), also a fashion assistant, to come to France with us as additional dogsbody/bag carrier. We have so many cases we need a Mack truck from our hotel to the Eurostar. We end up ramming the cases in the tiny luggage compartments and each sitting in a separate carriage to watch over them--hair, makeup, and 15 models are forced to be our security detail.

Arrive in Paris, and all pile onto the huge bus that will take us north to the Champagne region. Two hours later we turn a corner to a beautiful five-star hotel, EBF and I getting seriously excited until the bus driver shouts “Talent only!”, the models hop off, and the bus trundles on. We pull up outside a tiny, run down B&B and discover not only are we staying here, three miles from the nice hotel, but there’s no elevator. Nine trips up the stairs later, EBF pushes the door open to our tiny room where we’re going to spend the next two nights climbing over the cases to get to our bed (singular) and storing as much as we can in the bath.

The next morning, all drama is forgotten when we see the breathtaking chateau--marbled floors, mirrored hallways, and more chandeliers than you can cram onto one ceiling. The first hours fly by as we frantically unpack, steam, dress the girls, hem pants, tie bowties, and greet the guards who have brought the millions of euros of jewelry.

In an adjoining ballroom, the prop stylist has set up a tower of champagne bottles that stack from the floor to the ceiling, about 80 bottles all together. You can guess what happens next – two male models run to have a cigarette between shots, thunder past the tower and there is an almighty crash. This is unfortunately coupled with the arrival of the Chateau Manager (CM), a militant, old school stickler for the rules who immediately strikes the fear of God in all of us. She screeches into the room to find the beautiful floor covered in smashed glass, a bleeding model, the rest of the crew snickering and the prop stylist close to tears.

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A few hours later I’m hiding from FD and trying to sneak a glass of champagne when someone grabs me from behind and drags me into a nearby closet going "SHHHHHH" in my ear. Praying it’s a male model, I switch on a light and hope for the best. No--it’s Producer, looking panicked. “There’s a stain on the rug. A stain on the ancient white rug in the parlour room. Like, a massive, massive stain and it’s bright red.” My suggestion of pulling the couch over it and hoping no one notices is not well received. In a gesture of solidarity I find a cleaner and distract CM while they try to subtly scrub the priceless carpet. It doesn’t work too well and we end up taking turns to stand on it every time CM enters the room.

The only thing that gets EBF and I through the day is the thought of the evening event, an eight-course champagne tasting banquet in the Grand Hall, a thank you from the brand for all our hard work. The photographer and his assistants had previously said they were unable to stay for dinner, as they had to drive back to Paris that evening. But right at the last minute, as photographers are wont to do, he changes his mind. This sends Producer into a dizzying panic as it’s obviously not easy to knock up three extra places at a formal dinner that’s been planned weeks in advance. FD offers to give up her place at the table, along with mine and EBF’s. Grumbling, EBF and I see the chances of our luxury dinner slipping away as fast as the five-star hotel did the night before.

We morosely start packing up, but we’ve only filled three of the 18 bags when Producer skids into the room looking white as a sheet. She told CM that we would be switching out our seats at dinner for the photographer, and CM had shouted “You do not eensult ze house of CHAMPAGNE BRAND like zees! You vill eat zees dinner ve have provided for you or you vill GET OUT!!!!!” Basically, we have to sit down at this banquet in the next five seconds or we’ll be thrown out. EBF shouts “NO BLAIR, THERE’S NO TIME TO CHANGE” and dashes off in shorts, a t-shirt, and converse to the most formal dinner of our lives. CM runs into the room just in time to see me whip off my top and wriggle into my sheer black dress and huge Acne heels in record time. FD and I sprint across the marbled floors to take the very last seats at the table. We’re sweating, everyone’s staring, and I’m suddenly looking very inappropriately dressed as all the models sit elegantly in their black tie and gowns from the last shot. Not as inappropriate as EBF, who’s trying to cover up her cat-print t-shirt and micro shorts with her linen napkin.

Cue an hour long lecture on the history of champagne, peppered with glares and tuts from CM. The models get the giggles, everyone gets drunk, and I’m having the time of my life until it dawns on me that we still have to pack 15 out of the 18 trunks…

Drunk packing is definitely a professional low point, even FD doesn’t care as we sweep jewelry into big dust bags, fling hangers on the floor, and stuff gowns into the trunks as fast as we can. Eventually we’re all on the bus, drunk, exhausted, but in relatively high spirits as our 11th glass of champagne is kicking in. Except there’s a commotion in the chateau courtyard. Most Annoying Model (MAM) has lost her ring, and is screeching that it’s worth $10,000 and she’s not leaving without it. Having seen it earlier, I know that it’s Topshop at best but the booze has gotten to her. I say to EBF, “Wait, you had it earlier? You gave me a ring and asked if it was ours, that was it, right?” EBF is so hammered she’s lying along her row of bus seats, and denying all knowledge of the ring. MAM declares someone in the chateau has stolen it, which sends CM into heart attack territory, and firmly solidifies what we already knew – we will NEVER be allowed back again. English rep of the champagne company, fresh from a week in Ibiza on questionable substances, bursts into tears and has to be carried off the bus, shaking and crying. We leave the scene of devastation (crying Englishwoman, screaming Frenchwoman) and speed off back to our little B&B, safe in the knowledge that it is one professional relationship irreparably damaged. Oh, and the ring? It was in EBF’s pocket all along…