Barbara Kolsun: 'I have worked with some of the best in the world of luxury. What more could I ask for?'

26 Oct 2022 , 6:11pm

Legendary law professor and legal counsel on positive industry trends, concerning issues, advice and her career.

Benjamin Cardozo Law Professor and FAME program Director Barbara Kolsun began her illustrious career in 1982 as a pro bono law clerk for the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. In the intervening years, she worked in private practice, as legal counsel to five luxury brands, written books and been a mentor to many who want to enter the luxury sector. As chair of the Luxury Law Summit New York on 2 November, she'll open the programme. In advance of her remarks, the Alliance's Anne Gallagher asked her about some of the topics on her mind.

Barbara, you have been involved in luxury and such a force in the industry for many years. What are some of the positive trends you see in the sector?

Consumers, especially younger ones are more aware of social issues including fair labor standards, climate change and sustainability and thinking more about the global impact of overproduction. Photos of throwaway clothes on the beaches of Chile and African countries are visible to these consumers. Thus, I believe that consumers are shopping more thoughtfully and carefully and thus attracted to luxury - buying products that last a lifetime.

You mention some important concerns in the luxury industry. What are other issues that concern you?

A number of issues concern me such as transparency -- where are luxury goods sourced from; how are workers paid and treated; are luxury companies truly committed to diversity -- designers, employees including C-suite employees and members of the board of directors. It is not enough to create ads that seem to reflect diversity without a diverse work force.

You've been a mentor to so many young lawyers who want to enter the luxury industry. What is some of your tried-and-true advice?

Yes, some advice is ever green for those who want to enter into the luxury sector.  I generally tell young people to work in retail so they understand the business from the ground up; intern anywhere you can; read WWD and Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times and The Fashion Law

When you think of your career in the luxury industry, I wonder - would you do anything differently?

Honestly, I have had a great career, as general counsel of three amazing startups at the beginning of their growth: Kate Spade, Seven for All Mankind and Stuart Weitzman; as assistant general counsel at Calvin Klein Jeans, one of the most successful fashion licensees, and at Westpoint Stevens, the last US-based textile giant. I have co-edited four books on fashion law including "The Business and Law of Fashion and Retail" (Carolina Press, 2020), the best legal casebook on the topic. I have had a great teaching career at Cardozo Law School (and earlier at NYU and Fordham Law Schools), teaching and mentoring many of the lawyers working for luxury companies today. And I have worked with some of the best designers, production staff, CFO's, CEO's and lawyers in the world of luxury. What more could I ask for?