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2011 May 24

The Assistant Files, Vol. 12: Morgan Sarner, Rebecca Minkoff

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Morgan Sarner Morgan Sarner
Giorgio Niro
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(NEW YORK) Lots of leather, sample sale brawls over handbags and moonlighting as a fit model. Welcome to Morgan Sarner's gig as design assistant in the handbag division to Rebecca Minkoff. If you've ever tried on a pair of the designer's shoes, you have the 23-year-old to thank for the fit--and Sarner and her Minkoff-obsessed pals are like a built-in focus group for the brand's carryalls. In this week's dose of "The Assistant Files," take a glimpse at life adorned with rose-gold hardware. ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV

How did you score this gig?
I graduated from Indiana University last May with a degree in fashion merchandising and apparel design. I’d interned at Michael Kors for a summer previously, and I was working in sales in a showroom. I kept interviewing here because I really wanted to be a design assistant. I had a friend here; I had one interview here, and a few weeks later, Rebecca called and I interview with her. Since it was my second round, Rebecca told me not to be nervous. I was actually moving into my apartment that day, and I was a mess. I ran over quickly, had a 45-minute interview, and then Rebecca showed me around the office. I started the next day.

What was your stint in the showroom like?
I liked sales, but it was very small. It was me and two older women—there was no ambiance in the room we shared. It was really serious; I was just sitting on the computer all day.

How was your first day on the gig?
I was so nervous! I walked in, and it was just all girls. The only guy here at the time was Rebecca’s brother, Uri. It felt like walking into a sorority house. I was in a sorority in college, so it wasn’t that far off from what I’m used to, actually. I’ve always been friends with a lot of girls. I met the whole design team and they had me stand in the middle of the room and talk about myself, and then everyone else went around and did the same thing.

How many people are on the design team?
There are different divisions. In handbags, there’s Rebecca, me and Jody. There are three people on the apparel team, and two people on shoes.

What's the daily grind like?
I come in every morning at 9 a.m., and the first thing I do is check out the showroom and make sure everything is up to par. The best styles and bestsellers are out on the floor. We rotate the stock for market appointments, and also depending on which buyers are coming in for meetings on a particular day. We’re always having meetings, and they’re usually right here in the showroom. I then go back to the studio, check all of my emails, and talk to Rebecca for 20 minutes. When I arrive in the morning, there will be 50 emails from the factories, and after I respond to them, I won’t hear back until the next day. There are four different factories, and we’re on totally opposite time zones. The hours at our offices are nine to six, but I never leave at six. I’m usually here until 7 p.m., and Rebecca is always here until at least then. She’ll usually leave earlier if she has an appearance or an event to attend.

Tell about your myriad meetings at Minkoff.
We have production and leather meetings all the time.  This morning, we had correction meeting for the resort and cruise lines. Rebecca will decide we should take a zipper off or something. And then I’ll interact with the factories overseas.

What has surprised you about your job?
How difficult it is to communicate overseas. You have to be really clear and make sure everything is explained perfectly. If you’re switching a button or a zipper, it has to be in the exact place. It took a while to pick up on that level of precision.

What was fashion week like in February?
The design process took about three to four months. As it got closer to the actual show, it was really crazy! That was latest I’d ever been here.  I also assisted the stylist, because I told Rebecca I wanted to help out with that. It was great, and so detail oriented—the models even needed the same exact black rubber bands in their hair, along with matching floral headbands. We were all running around and schlepping bags back and forth. We had bags completely lining both arms. There were just a million bags everywhere! We arranged them in a special order backstage, organized by color, season and fabrication. It was around 250 bags total.  Next to the bags, all the shoes were laid out to match and the outfits were arranged around it. 

Where does Rebecca cull design cues?
Rebecca takes inspirational shopping trips a few times each year, and I think it’s one of her favorite parts of her job. She goes with Jody, who’s basically like her right hand.  They go to London and Paris, and stop at a lot of vintage stores. After the last inspiration trip, Rebecca returned with six really big black duffle bags. We laid everything out on the floor and organized it all by trends and different embellishments. Then we coordinate with the shoes and apparel, so a complete story is told on each inspiration board. We take pictures, we rip random colors out of magazines and make about 10 inspiration boards.  Pandora is usually playing while we make the boards, which keeps things fun! It takes about two weeks to really go through everything.

How often does Rebecca visit the factories?
She goes to the factories twice a year to do corrections. Rebecca has to check on all the prototypes and market samples to make sure they’re exactly how she wants them before they arrive in the showroom.

Is there anything odd about the gig?
Well, I’ve been a fit model on occasion for the apparel. And when we first started doing shoes, I was the sample size so i would do every single fitting for the new styles as they arrived. It was fun—I’d tell them if the heel was hurting, or if the shoe was too tight on my toes. I also “wear-test” items a lot. You can borrow a bag for however long you want, and then you fill out a form about your experience. I did a “wear-test” once with a calf hair bag, and it was shedding all over my pants so I had to tell them that…

How much input do you have in Rebecca’s bags?
Rebecca always says to me, “Morgie, would you buy this?” I always tell her the truth—she really likes to get my honest opinion. The first time she asked what I thought of a bag, I told her I really didn’t like it. Rebecca didn’t make that bag. I’m kind of like her market. I love everything she does, so Rebecca is interested if I like it, if my friends like it and if we’d all buy it.

How much Rebecca Minkoff was on your shoulders before you started here?
I had the MAB Mini when I was in college. It was the only Rebecca Minkoff bag I had.

How many bags do you own now?
I have around five or six bags. I’m a fan of the rose gold hardware, and we’re doing a lot of that for the resort collection. I also like quilted leathers a lot.

What do your friends think of your gig?
They think I have the coolest job. Ever. They’re all quite jealous. One of my best friends is basically the biggest Rebecca Minkoff fan out there, and has 25 of her bags, perfectly lined up in her closet. At one of the sample sales, my friend was like, “I have to meet Rebecca, right now!” I took her over to Rebecca and she was so sweet and excited to meet her.

How often do you get asked about gratis or discounted Rebecca goodies?
Every single day. My friends are constantly asking if I can get them bags or tell them what’s going to be out in stores next. I always say, “I can’t get you a bag right now, but come to the sample sale!”

What are the sample sales like?
We all work the first night—they’re insane. We had one last week, and it was just crazy to see women fighting! One person will pick up a bag, another women will rip it out of her hands. People follow each other around the sales, too, so if someone puts a bag down another person will immediately snatch it up. Everyone goes crazy; the first sale I worked, right when I started, two women got into a fight over a MAB in a particular color. People buy a ton. Some buy 10 bags each.

What does Rebecca eat for lunch?
She likes to get her own lunch and do her own thing. Lately, because she’s pregnant, she’s been getting Chipotle all the time.

What’s Rebecca’s workout routine like?
Before she was pregnant, Rebecca rode her bike to work everyday. Now she walks instead.
Besides the Chipotle and walking in lieu of biking, has anything changed since Rebecca’s been expecting?
She’s the same, really! She’ll come in at 9:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. now, but she’s not moody. Which is great.

How would you describe your boss?
I love Rebecca. She’s so down to earth, and she’s always laughing. She constantly cracks jokes, and she does the weirdest impressions. Out of nowhere, she’ll start talking in these random voices and it’s just hilarious.

What is Rebecca’s guilty pleasure?
She really likes to eat. It might be because she’s pregnant, though… but she does love Twix bars. She has the fun-sized ones.

What’s the Minkoff sibling vibe like, since Rebecca’s CEO is her brother Uri?
They’re really close, and they make decisions together all the time. It feels like a family here.

How often does Rebecca don her own designs?
All the time. She’s always carrying one of her bags. When I first started here, Rebecca was carrying the Apache Slouch in black with gold hardware. Now she’s into Rebecca Minkoff Collection bags.

Do you hope to have a bag named after you eventually?
I do, and I will. There’s already a pair of jeans named after me. One day, I saw them on a line sheet. I told Rebecca, and she was like, “Oh yeah. I know.” She hadn’t mentioned it to me! They’re called the Morgan, and they’re red. Those jeans just needed a name, and I was around.

What else could you see Rebecca doing as a second career?
She does everything here! Bags, shoes, clothing. But other than that? A mom. Just a mom.

Time for the dreaded quandary: any foreseeable expiration date on this gig?
I don’t want to go anywhere else, I really love being here and I love what I do. I just want to grow with the company.

What’s on your career bucket list?
I’ve always wanted to have my own shoe line, since I was young. But my dream is to become a celebrity stylist, working on red carpet looks.

Who would you love to swap jobs with in the fashion industry for a day?
Rachel Zoe.  I’m obsessed with her.

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