On Tuesday night, MTV made a major play to our collective sense of nostalgia for the aughts by airing a catch-up special with Lauren Conrad, the star of the smash-hit reality series "The Hills," to give fans a look at her life today — a full decade after the show wrapped. Aside from becoming a pop cultural phenomenon and turning the 20-somethings it followed around with cameras into bona-fide celebrities, the show was one of the first to depict the notoriously exclusive inner-workings of the fashion industry, thanks to Conrad's internships at both Teen Vogue and People's Revolution.
"The Hills: That Was Then, This Is Now" was teased online for weeks leading up to the premiere, and promised audiences a look at what really happened behind the scenes during the series' most infamous story lines: Conrad's fallout with Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, her heartrending breakup with drug-addled boyfriend Jason Whaler, that pesky little sex tape rumor and the time that she, "the girl who didn't go to Paris," ended up getting a second chance to go to Paris for the Crillon Ball with her colleague Whitney Port. (In case you were wondering, the show's producers actively encouraged the pair to ruin the fancy designer gown Conrad borrowed for the occasion in order to create some #drama.)
Nothing that aired in the hour-long special was particularly revelatory, aside from a few tidbits regarding her staged TV relationships (Brody Jenner) and the not-staged one she has with her adorable, yet relatively mute, husband, William Tell. In addition, the whole thing seemed slightly propagandic, as no other cast members were interviewed for the program; only Conrad, members of her family and select crew members — former confidants who obviously remained close with the 30-year-old after the show wrapped — appeared on camera. However, two things stood out to us as the special chugged along: First, that Kohl's made a very smart marketing move by aligning itself with Conrad, and second, that Conrad actually learned a lot of stuff from those fashion internships that we all assumed were completely staged.
The debut episode of "The Hills" focused on Conrad's move to Los Angeles where she'd landed an internship interview with Teen Vogue, and although the magazine's staffers were mic'd and prepped — meaning that Conrad was obviously getting the job for plot purposes — she was still incredibly nervous that she wasn't going to get hired. "I never assumed anything was mine," she admitted, claiming that she was sure Port would get the job over her, and that the anxiety viewers could sense on camera during her interview was 100 percent real.
Something else that was apparently real? The skills she learned during her time at said internship. Over the course of the series, at both Teen Vogue and People's Revolution (where she worked under Kelly Cutrone), Conrad was put through the fashion industry ringer: she steamed clothes, organized fashion closet samples, worked on photo shoots, helped to cast models, alphabetized stuff for Marc Jacobs, worked both front- and back-of-house during fashion shows and, in a few rather absurd cases, traveled exhausting distances to either run an errand or cover an event. As the special took viewers into her work for Paper Crown, her contemporary line, and LC Lauren Conrad, her collection in partnership with Kohl's, she (allegedly) still does most of the above, albeit in a more directorial capacity. "You have to go through things that are unpleasant," Conrad said of her time climbing the ranks in fashion, but that those experiences — captured on film for posterity — are what eventually formed her work ethic. In addition, she made a point to add that she's "still learning" by aligning herself with talented folks within the industry — another invaluable aspect of fashion internships.
Later, viewers joined Conrad on a Paper Crown shoot — staged in a Pinterest-ready barn at a vineyard, of course — as well as on a trip she made to New York City for the CFDA Awards, where she wore a dress she designed with Kohl's. "People are just fancy and cool here," she told the cameras in the car ride to the event, adding that she feels out of place in the New York fashion scene with her "California" brand. "I'm not fancy enough." We also got a glimpse of her taking part in a Kohl's design meeting, where dozens of employees sat in a board room discussing ice blue jeggings and conceptualizing future collections. Sure, much of this screen time felt like a straight-up Kohl's commercial, but it's a smart move on the retailer's part to get on millennials' radars ahead of New York Fashion Week in September, where Conrad will present another range on the runway. Her social media following is strong — 5.2 million on Instagram; 3.54 on Twitter — and with more and more shoppers making purchase decisions based on items they see in context online, this special was just another way to build brand awareness before the fall line hits stores.
Love her or hate her, Conrad is a savvy businesswoman (who clearly worked out a great deal for herself with one of the nation's biggest department stores), and it's encouraging to hear her sing the praises of the (often-shitty) times she spent in a magazine fashion closet or getting screamed at by a high-strung power publicist. While we're guessing her bosses were encouraged to be extra hard on her — we're looking at you, Lisa Love — her experiences as a fashion intern were not too dissimilar from many of our own, and we at Fashionista are living proof that these unglamorous gigs are worthwhile. So, while we're still not convinced that much of the melodrama on "The Hills" was real after seeing the special, we can assure you that Conrad's prudent take on paying your dues in fashion certainly is.