Sara Berman, Artist

In our regular series, important people take us back to their first jobs


Hi, Sara! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m an artist. So I make paintings, I make videos and I make textiles pieces. I just make!

What was your first McJob?

I had a job in a restaurant and decided I wanted to do that waitresses thing where you balance four plates on your arms, but dropped them down the stairs and got fired on the first day. Then I worked in a hairdressing salon but the hair grossed me out, so I quit that, walked up the road and got a job working at an art shop. I liked art so thought: “I can do that!”

What did you have to do?

I’d smoke a joint out back then spend my day organising paint in nice colour orders. I don’t really remember helping any customers!

What was the funniest thing that happened?

One requirement from the guy who owned the shop was that each of his staff took time for an hour’s chat with him every day. He liked his tea cold, so the deal was you made him a cup of tea, let it cool down, brought it in, sat down and chatted. The shop also had this library, and he didn’t mind if we just sat around reading. I was fascinated by this one book on gender, so I was well ahead on intersex and trans issues because I read this big book on it in the early 90s!

How much did you get paid?

£30 day in cash — a lot for a 15-year-old in the early 90s. Then age 16, I got a job as a model. Kate Moss had set the scene for unconventional, small, skinny, gawky models. So I thought: “This is my moment!” Kate Moss would also turn up in her trainers and jeans, so I thought: “I don’t even have to get dressed up. This is amazing.” So I was a bit lazy. I had a big mouth, which didn’t help, and I was often stoned, which wasn’t a good look. I was booked for a three days job in Amsterdam, but got bored and went home in the middle of the night. The woman who ran the agency said: “You’re the worst model I’ve ever met,” but promised to keep me on their books so long as I didn’t give up on my degree studying fashion design at St Martin’s in central London.

What skills did you learn that you still use now?

The modelling was brilliant in terms of skillset. It sounds crazy, but it was a great lesson on confidence. I’d walk into a casting full of other girls — often with famous stylists and photographers — and have to make an impression in three seconds. I got really good at that. When I went on to become a fashion designer, it meant I could walk into any room and deal with any situation.

Why is alumni so important?

There’s something real and human about moving through life as we change and evolve. People you meet through your creative and professional life remember you in a certain way. So it’s always great to have people who remember who you were those most formative years.

Are you still in contact with any of your old colleagues?

Not the art shop, but there’s quite a few models I knew back in the day that are now in my life.

What would happen if you tried to do your old jobs today?

I’m sure I could still loaf about all day at an art shop! And — as an artist — I sometimes have to have my photo taken or present my work. So I know I can still do that pretty well!



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