FAME Law Center director Barbara Kolsun on the luxury sector's challenges and opportunities and the secret to success as a fashion lawyer
Barbara Kolsun is professor of practice at Benjamin N Cardozo School of Law and director of its Fashion, Arts, Media and Entertainment (FAME) Law Center. She is a co-editor of 2020 first edition of The Business and Law of Fashion. Previous roles include working as general counsel for an array of fashion brands including Calvin Klein Jeans and WestPoint Stevens. She is chair of the Luxury Law Summit Americas, a virtual event taking place on 10 November.
What is the luxury sector’s biggest legal challenge?
Dealing with the sustainability factor or, as Vanessa Friedman from The New York Times puts it, 'responsible fashion'. We must deal with waste and climate change and undertake responsible manufacturing, working with factories that play by these rules.
How can brands successfully address it?
From the top down, not just as a marketing tool. What a company says about responsible fashion must be more than messaging from the marketing and PR departments but company policy, in action.
What is the sector’s biggest opportunity?
Circular fashion. Luxury brands must take control of taking back garments and repurposing them or reselling them.
Describe your role, and how you arrived at this point
After 35 years working in the luxury world as a lawyer, first representing brands then working as general counsel for such startups as Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman and 7 For All Mankind, and for Calvin Klein Jeans and WestPoint Stevens – the last of the classic US textile companies – I founded the FAME program at Cardozo Law School with Lee Sporn, former GC of Michael Kors.
I teach Fashion Law and a practical course called the Fashion Law Practicum with Douglas Hand. Doug and I also co-edited The Business and Law of Fashion and Retail, the only casebook on the topic (Carolina Academic Press, 2020). Teaching the next generation of fashion lawyers has been a great pleasure and way to round out my career. My former students and interns are working at many of the top luxury brands in the US.
What do you most like about your role?
Passing on my many years of practical experience to law students.
What attributes do you look for in those wishing to study at your law school?
Maturity, passion for learning, grit and ability to learn about the complex world of fashion and retail.
Can you summarise the advice you give to your graduates?
Many jobs will give them skills which can lead eventually to a job at a fashion company - privacy, employment, IP, trade, M&A, tax.
Which figure in the fashion industry do you most admire, and why?
I admire New York Times reporter Vanessa Friedman for her ability to look at the big picture and remind us of our responsibility to the greater good as an industry. I admire the classic brands and their founders and designers: LVMH, Ralph Lauren, Prada, and the generous hearts of designers like Michael Kors. And, of course, all the designers I have worked for, especially Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman.
And which attorney?
All of my many colleagues over the last 35-plus years: Tony Keats [founding partner, KeatsGatien], Heather McDonald [of counsel, Baker & Hostetler], Sherry Jetter [adjunct professor of law, Cardozo School of Law], Lee Sporn [of counsel, Olshan], Douglas Hand, all the authors of the chapters in our casebook.
What other career might you have pursued in an alternative life?
I spent eight years as a professional singer and actress and those were very happy ones. I wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer and wish I had had the opportunity to be a judge in my career.
What’s your favourite fashion item right now? Favourite podcast and book?
Still love my Stuart Weitzman boots. Love Douglas Hand's podcast, The Laws of Style. Loved the Elena Ferrante books, all of them.
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