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How I Got Here: Melbourne Fashion Festival’s Fashion Programmer on scoring the job of her dreams

PHOTOGRAPHY BY EVA OTSING AND KATE SHANASY

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

Always wear comfortable shoes, be nice and be efficient.

Have you ever stalked someone on LinkedIn and wondered how on earth they managed to land that wildly impressive job? While the Internet and social media might have us believe that our ideal job is a mere pipe dream, the individuals who have these jobs were, believe it or not, in the same position once, fantasising over someone else’s seemingly unattainable job.

But behind the awe-inspiring titles and the fancy work events lies a heck of a lot of hard work. So what lessons have been learnt and what skills have proved invaluable in getting them from daydreaming about success to actually being at the top of their industry?

Welcome to How I Got Here, where we talk to women who are killing it in their respective fields about how they landed their awe-inspiring jobs, exploring the peaks and pits, the failures and the wins, and most importantly the knowledge, advice and practical tips they’ve gleaned along the way.

This week, Chloe Naughton, the Fashion Programmer for the Melbourne Fashion Festival, tells us how she landed her dream role. Chloe’s journey has been a mixture of studying, networking and hard graft, and it’s the latter two to which she attributes her success.

Knowing she was passionate about fashion and design meant she was always certain about which industry she should be in, but figuring out what would be the best fit job-wise took years of late nights, contract work and learning about the fashion world from the ground up.

From interning for Russh and familiarising herself with fashion behind-the-scenes, to an event management role for the National Gallery of Victoria and contract roles for IMG at Sydney Fashion Week, making and nurturing valuable connections has always been a priority for Chloe. Eventually, on her second go applying for the role, she scored the job of her dreams; Fashion Programmer for Melbourne Fashion Festival.

But behind the glamour of the fashion industry and the bougie events she gets to frequent, Chloe has worked harder than almost anyone I know. I feel qualified to say this because she’s a close friend of mine and we were housemates in the earlier stages of her career (she’s an excellent housemate, in case you were wondering). Back then, she was always keeping her eye out for opportunities and would take up any and every chance to learn and network that she could.

But there is a key attribute that Chloe values higher than any other, and it’s something that I see her practice in everyday life. It won’t cost you anything and it’s something any one of us can choose to prioritise – being nice to everyone you meet.

Chloe has an ability to see the good in absolutely everyone – even if they don’t see it in themselves, she brings it out in them. I think this is what makes her such a joy to be around, and it’s something that has clearly served her well throughout her career. Here’s what she’s learnt along the way.

What do you do and what’s your official job title?

I am Chloe Naughton, the Fashion Programmer for the Melbourne Fashion Festival. I select the designers who showcase on our runways. I also project manage our National Graduate Showcase and National Designer Award and oversee the selection of our Independent Runway Program.

Take us back to when you were first starting out. Did you study to get into your chosen field, or did you start out with an internship/entry-level role and climb the ladder? Tell us the story. 

My journey was a mix of both studying and working my way up, however my success definitely came from the latter. I have always had an interest in fashion and design, which made it easy knowing the path I wanted to pursue coming out of high school. The challenge would come in knowing which area within the fashion world I wanted to work. However, I quickly learnt that my skillset lay within the organisational parts of fashion rather than being a designer or stylist myself.

I dropped out of my bachelor’s degree in styling at Whitehouse Institute of Design and headed to Sydney with no real plan. Whilst living there I was lucky enough to land an internship in the fashion cupboard at Russh magazine, where I spent a few months working on sets, sourcing clothes and being introduced to many people from the industry. This was a huge opportunity, as I learnt the ins-out-outs of how the industry works from a behind-the-scenes perspective.

I came back to Melbourne with the intention of moving into fashion PR so I decided to further my studies and spent one and a half years doing a Diploma of Business and Public Relations at Swinburne University. My next move saw me sidestep into an event manager role with the contractors who ran the event spaces at the National Gallery of Victoria. I loved working there, mainly because of the grandiose buildings and the beautiful art, however, the work was tough. I was lucky enough to work on the very first NGV Dior Gala and adored being able to see all the exhibitions on my lunch breaks. Still, my heart was calling me closer to fashion.

I made my way back to Sydney to work for IMG Sydney Fashion Week as their ticketing and registrations co-ordinator for two years in a row, returning again to Melbourne in between contracts. My stars aligned as I arrived back in Melbourne permanently when the previous Fashion Programmer for the Melbourne Fashion Festival resigned. I was over the moon when my now boss, Yolanda, called me to tell me that I was successful in my application and offered me the job.


Chloe backstage at this year’s Melbourne Fashion Festival

What challenges/hurdles have you faced getting to where you are now? Can you tell us about one in particular?

There is one ‘fun fact’/hurdle that really does really stand out. It involves being knocked back for a dream job, which is the job I have now. I had actually applied for my job as Fashion Programmer two years prior to becoming appointed and had not been successful in my initial application. I had been pretty devastated when I received the news that I had missed out.

But being knocked back made me realise what I really wanted. If I hadn’t been initially unsuccessful, I wouldn’t have gone back to Sydney to work and learn on Fashion Week for two years in a row, which gave me invaluable experience and shaped skills that helped me get to where I am today. The lesson here is when you’re knocked back, keep going. The worst thing you can do is quit.

What do you want people to know about your industry/your role?

The fashion/event industry is not as glamorous as it might seem when you are behind the scenes; the hours are long, the work is tough and you have to have a very thick skin. But the people there have a tight-knit community. We all work our guts out, but we become almost like family in the process. Everyone is in it because they love what they do. When talented people work together to pull something off, the result is very rewarding. That is what keeps us all coming back for more.

What’s the best part about your role?

My favourite part is working with so many talented people from the industry. We program hundreds of creatives every year in all different capacities, and to me, that is so exciting. Every year brings something completely different. It is inspiring to see people pushing the boundaries and progressing what they do. I love to be a part of that process with a program that helps showcase their achievements.

What skills have served you well in your industry?

I think one of my biggest strengths is that I consider myself to be naturally nice to people. I think being nice goes a long way in any industry, and it is something anyone can practise. I’m also super organised, which is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to work in this industry. When you work in events, some days are short, and some days are long. But when there is a task that needs to be done and work that needs to be delivered, you have to be prepared to stay to the end. It’s definitely not a career for everyone. In short; being nice, being organised and staying until the job is done.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in a role like yours one day?

You have to be prepared to hustle, and sometimes get your hands dirty. I volunteered on so many shoots and at so many festivals. I interned and worked wherever I could. Many of those jobs were paid, but equally as many weren’t. But I feel that as long as you are learning, you are progressing. You also have to be ready to go out and make the connections to form the opportunities. They do not land on your doorstep.

I think one of the biggest things anyone should know who wants to get into this kind of work is that you have to be a team player. For me, that would sometimes mean that in between hosting designers who are showcasing for the night, I’m also helping the volunteers replace gift bags on seats before the next runway starts. Just because that’s what it takes to get the job done. No one is above any task.

What about a practical tip?

Always wear comfortable shoes, be nice and be efficient. All of these things will take you a long way.

@chloejnaughton

Read the first instalment of How I Got Here here, the second instalment here and the third instalment here.

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