Women's Fashion | Wry Society

The stylist’s assistant

Tired of her place at the bottom of the pile (of clothes to be returned), a budding fashionista finally steps out in style.

October 13 2010
Vicki Reeve

Portia Buffery, the stylist’s assistant at Elegant magazine, secretly thinks her job beneath her. In fact, she pulls such disdainful expressions whenever her boss so much as asks her to answer the phone that how she feels about her post really isn’t a secret at all.

Portia is merely interested in her future career as a supermodel. And that means looking fabulous, which in turn means being seen in all the key pieces from the top fashion houses. Luckily, this is a cinch (though not in a belt-tightening way as Portia is a perfect size 6), since part of her job is calling in “looks” for fashion “stories”. These are styled by her boss, the chilly, formidably fashionable and über-respected Visha Smythe, and shot by stellar snappers (from Mario to Patrick, Visha is best friends with them all).

Portia often surreptitiously supplements such requests with pieces from the grandes maisons (she “early adopted” this season’s equestrian-style leather cape by Dior and Vuitton’s fairytale silver chiffon ballgown) as well as from more “insider” houses (Mark Fast, Meadham Kirchhoff). She tries them on in the privacy of the “fashion cupboard” and snaps Polaroids of herself in her preferred outfits for her portfolio. As she looks utterly divine in most of these, her portfolio – a Smythson Cuttings Album sent as a present for Visha and something she might have given to Portia if she’d had a chance to see it – is filling up nicely.

Borrowing these clothes to wear in the real world is not allowed for one in such a lowly post as Portia. It’s become a sackable offence since last year when an intern was papped at a rival magazine’s “women of the year” awards wearing the stunning black one-shouldered smoking dress modelled by Inès de la Fressange for Gaultier’s spring haute couture collection – and last seen in the Elegant offices.

In fact, Portia always manages to look The Fashionista despite her paltry salary. Being young and exquisite, she carries off high-street chic so brilliantly that most of her colleagues assume she’s wearing Prada and Hermès rather than Primark and Hennes. She’s still thrilled by the compliment the editor paid her last month – “Lovely Kenzo trousers”. They were, as she let on to Visha in the hope she’d get a rise (or even a real Kenzo pair), “vintage French Connection”.

Visha has yet to be convinced by Portia. She gave her the job as a favour to the publisher, Rupert von Thünen, Portia’s “sort of uncle”, but has had complaints about her tardy “returns”. On a shoot, Portia is no more than a runner; fetching, carrying, making coffee, pinning and ironing (don’t mention the time that the “cheap s**t” clothes steamer wasn’t working because she hadn’t switched it on). But afterwards she has to send back the clothes and accessories, right down to the last vest and earring; neatly packing it all up and organising a courier. Portia doesn’t like getting her hands dirty – especially since her Urban Retreat Ultimate Manicure – and finds this a terrible faff. She has to complete all returns within 48 hours and, as Visha is about to go on a yoga holiday, this is doubly important: no PRs must disturb her while mid-asana with Donna Karan.

While Portia hasn’t yet dared step from fashion-cupboard catwalk to real-life fashionable company, she’s been hatching a plan to get noticed by the latest, hottest photographer, Zack Zee. She’s heard that Zack will be at the aftershow party for his sister’s band – a gig so underground and exclusive that there’s no way she’ll be papped at it. She’s wangled a ticket from the music editor and selected an outfit: a black panelled leather dress from Brazilian teenage sensation Pedro Lourenço’s runway début complemented by statement earrings worth at least £50k.

Portia’s best mate Cordelia says she looks “fab; edgy and fashion forward”. And Visha – scuppered from flying to Turks & Caicos by an airline strike – can only agree as she arrives unexpectedly at the bash. Talk about “directional” fashion, here’s one look that’s clearly showing Portia the door.