Photo: Noah Emrich
I booked a one way flight from Auckland to Singapore for the ridiculously low price of $149 late one night in February last year. The Jetstar offer popped up in my Gmail and I thought to myself, if I’m going to get out of here, this is probably the time to do it. About a week later, I learned that writers like myself were not allowed to travel to America to cover stories for an international audience unless they had the foreign journalist visa. With no plans whatsoever to actually use it for any extended amount of time besides maybe New York Fashion Week twice a year, I made an appointment with the US Consulate in Auckland and applied for the I-Visa for visiting media. At the offices, I watched as young snowboarders were given passport stamps, Americans were issued emergency travel documents and non-New Zealand passport holders were denied visiting visas. When I was called up, I pulled out a huge envelope filled with clippings of my stories, information about my blog traffic and as much press as I could carry with me. The guy laughed, asked to see a letter from my employer (aka myself), took my passport and told me I’d been approved. The interchange took all of 90 seconds, 45 of which were spent discussing the fact that I write about men’s fashion, and what I thought of his outfit (I said I’d be coming to him for shopping advice next time I needed a good pair of slacks).
I left New Zealand a couple of days after my 27th birthday and flew to Singapore to stay with my best good friend Sheida and his wife Allison. For seven days we hung poolside, had McDonald’s delivered to our apartment and drank more bubble tea than you’d think possible. On the eighth day, I flew to Milan for the menswear shows, writing for the New Zealand Herald, my blog, Hint Magazine and the biggest break of my career at that point, interviewing top menswear editors, stylists and industry folk for Gilt MANual. It was the dream job – I was being paid to talk with (read: interrogate) all the guys that I’ve looked up to as long as I’ve been working in fashion – Tim Blanks, Robert Rabersteiner, Josh Peskowitz, Eugene Tong, Jim Moore and Bruce Pask, among others.
The second day I was in Milan, I ran into a girl I’d known for a few years but not seen for a while and fell in love at second sight. We hung out for a couple of days then she had to go to Florence, but before she left, I told her to come visit me in Paris. She said okay.
When I arrived in Paris, I had Fashion Week for the first four days, then the girl from Milan came to visit. I started hanging out with this awesome crew of Australians, Dutchies, Americans and Parisians, it was summer, it was Paris, I was with an amazing girl and I was having the time of my life. Up until that point I’d been thinking I’d had a good run but it was probably time to go home, but then I picked up this enormous writing contract for Park & Bond that would require me to work for 10 hours every day for something like 48 days straight. If I was going to fly back to New Zealand I’d lose about three days, so the decision was made to stay in Paris for the duration of the contract.
So for two and a half months, I stayed in Paris and wrote harder than I’ve ever written before. It was exhausting, it was a little reminiscent of factory work, but it was a means to an end and the rewards were greater than anything I’d seen before.
At the end of July, all my friends (including the girl) left Paris. The city I’d had so much fun in suddenly died a very quick death and I was left alone, bored out of my mind and wondering what on earth I was doing there. On August the first, everything shut down – even the three boulangeries on my street. I decided it was time to try New York, so I booked a flight and left two days later.
One of the advantages of holding the foreign journalist visa is that you can fly into the States with no outward ticket booked. So when I landed, the customs guy stamped my passport, told me to enjoy my stay and sent me on my way. Outside, New York was at its absolute worst – stinking hot and pouring with rain. I caught a taxi to my Australian friend’s model apartment and sat down in damp, muggy, filth: The bathroom light didn’t work, weeks-old dishes were strewn around and my mattress had no sheets and looked as if it’d been the site of a thousand one night stands.
Due to jetlag, the first few days weren’t much fun. But on the fifth day, I got out of bed to find a bearded gentleman sitting on the couch. His name was Tom Bull and he asked if I wanted to go for a walk with him to get some food. We barely talked to each other. The next day was the same – us wandering around the city, hardly saying a word. On the third night, we were walking to the supermarket and Tom decided it would be funny to push me into a giant pyramid of black garbage bags. It broke the ice and from that moment on, we became great mates. Never underestimate the importance of a strong ally – especially one from a similar background (in our case, we’re both Australasian). If it hadn’t been for him, I quite possibly wouldn’t have made it this long.
I started partying, and New York nightlife was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was fast, addictive, wild and an all-consuming pursuit. I embraced it with open arms – I’d suddenly discovered a place where I could dance to Drake, Kanye West and Sean Paul, jump on tables, bear-hug bouncers, scam my way past doormen and run amok all over the show. New York was like a playground and I never wanted to leave.
Then the work opportunities started presenting themselves: the New York Times, group hang-out sessions with all my favourite menswear bloggers, GQ, Details, Hugo Boss and all sorts of other random styling, writing and travel jobs. I was hooked.
A few days later the model apartment started filling up with girls in town for Fashion Week, so Tom and I had to go. Luckily, an old friend with the best apartment in New York City said that I could crash with her for a few days. Life changed the minute I arrived. Her apartment was enormous, airy, light and jaw-droppingly impressive to anybody who entered. A couple of novelties included the elevator door opening into her living room; the view of Will Smith’s apartment opposite and my very own bedroom with an ensuite, plus shelves and racks where I could hang my clothes. (NB: Now that I am living in a shared loft in Brooklyn, I understand that I was in Candyland. Still, it was the best introduction to New York I could’ve hoped for.)
At this point, I met fellow New Zealander Gala Darling. She told me about her wonderful experience with immigration lawyer Alejandro Filippa and sent him an email introducing me. I went in for a consultation the next day. After explaining my situation to his lovely associate Kiran, she told me that she thought I had a very strong case for an O-1 Visa. The next couple of weeks were spent finding a sponsor, putting together a portfolio of every article I’d ever had published in newspapers and magazines (450 pages worth), every piece of press, I’d ever received and letters of recommendation from 10 people high up in my field. The payment plan was simple, clear and as honest as you’ll ever find from a lawyer: $1250 up front, $325 for the governmental filing fee, and $1250 if and when the visa actually came through. Thankfully it did, and here we are today.
Now that I’ve been here for six months, I can definitely see the pros and cons. On the plus side, you’re surrounded by people who are ambitious, supportive of young talent, aspirational, inspirational, highly successful and positively worldly. Everything moves incredibly quickly here and if you get in with a good group of people you’ll become instant friends. On the flip side, if you leave for a few weeks, it can feel like you have to start all over again – that was definitely the case for me when I came back after my Christmas trip to New Zealand, both professionally and socially. The same goes for career opportunities – they come and go in an instant, so you have to know when to jump. The toughest thing for New Zealanders is that we’re not taught to sell ourselves, and it’s a skill you have to learn the moment you arrive – if you can’t tell an absolute stranger precisely why they need to hire you in three sentences or less, you’ll struggle to move forward.
New York is the most exciting place I’ve ever been to and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s exhausting and scary and you’re a tiny fish in the ocean, but it’s the stuff dreams are made of. Anything and everything is possible. If you can imagine it, you can probably do it. I think all my friends should move over immediately. And despite everything we’re told by everyone we know, it’s not actually that difficult. There are countless visas available to good workers – you just have to find the right one for you.
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section and I’ll endeavour to answer them as best as I can.
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