The Laws of Style hosted by Douglas Hand Episode 16 – Barbara Kolsun
“We creative people—and god knows why—but we tend to drift toward law.”
On this episode of the Laws of Style, Douglas is joined by Barbara Kolsun, a leading fashion industry attorney, adjunct professor of fashion law at Cardozo Law, co-director of The Fame Center, and co-editor of the seminal text on the subject, ‘Fashion Law – A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives and Attorneys’. Barbara talks about her early career as an actor/singer and her decision to pivot into law. Kolsun also describes her revolutionary legal work on landmark cases dealing with counterfeit/fraud, trademark and copyright in the fashion industry. Also discussed is working as a woman in a male-dominated industry along with her experience serving as general counsel for major designers like Kate Spade, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein Jeans, Stuart Weitzman and 7 for All Mankind, among others.
Jacket – Margarita Serrano
Pants – Theory
Shoes – Stuart Weitzman
Belt – Calvin Klien
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INTRO: Welcome to The Laws of Style, featuring conversations on creativity, fashion and the law from the leading edge of our economy and culture, hosted by noted fashion lawyer, Douglas Hand.
Douglas HAND: Hello, and welcome to the podcast, The Laws of Style, downloading to you from the offices of HBA, high above Bryant Park in the garment district of New York City. I’m your host Douglas Hand, fashion lawyer and fashion law professor, and I’m joined by a special guest today, my co-professor at Cardozo Law School, soon to be co-author of the definitive work on fashion law as a case book and a business school text, Barbara Kolsun. Barbara, welcome.
Barbara KOLSUN: Thank you.
HAND: So, Barb, we’ve been looking forward to this, or at least I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. But I want to start at a place that a lot of people may not know about you. You are a titan in the industry, you really—I mean, as a fashion lawyer and fashion law professor, you created honestly, both subjects in the minds of many, including this interviewer. But before that, you were a professional actress and singer. Tell us about those days. Tell us about that pivot whenever it was into the law, and how if at all that informs what you do now.
KOLSUN: Sure. Well, that was my first love, and it’s probably one of the reasons why I appreciate creative people. I went to Sarah Lawrence College, I studied with Eva Le Gallienne and [Gouda Haagen 01:39] I worked for eight years solidly as an actor and singer. And when I was in my late 20s, I started to see some of my friends make that next big move from stage to screen or TV and it wasn’t happening fast enough for me and I was impatient and bored and ready to not be so reliant on one show to another and I decided to do something else. That something else, I’ve got to tell you was Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief. And I went, I applied to law school, which was $4,000 a year at the time, cheaper than medical school.
HAND: Cheaper than preschool.
KOLSUN: Exactly cheaper than preschool. And that’s how I ended up in law school. I loved my career in the theater mice. I still hang out with some of my dear friends. You‘ve seen a program I did at Cardozo this year with my friend,Lindsey Krauss about the Rosenbergs. My friend Mark Bramble who wrote 42nd Street, recently died and I’m one of the executives of his estate. I go to everything in the theater. It’s kind of like being a musician and changing paths, and Cardozo is filled with alums like that. Lisa Warren, who was the General Counsel of Michael Kors. And Lee was a concert pianist, went to the Oberlin conservatory in there. He’s just one of many dancers, singers. The first two graduates of Cardozo, top of the class were former New York City ballet dancers. So we creative people, God knows why, but we seem to drift toward law.
HAND: Your favorite role was what?
KOLSUN: Well, you’re going to laugh, Miss Zappa and Gypsy, the stripper who plays the trumpet. Why? Because you got a lot of laughs and you were onstage for two brief scenes and they were absolute scene killers. And then I got to go back to the dressing room and read and crochet and do the stuff that I wanted to do. So I would say for sure that role.
HAND: Well, so let’s flash to the next chapter of your storied career—80s, 90s fashion industry. I guess for listeners that don’t know, you know, Barb really started the legal departments of three major brands: Kate Spade, 7 For All Mankind and Stuart Weitzman. Meaning before you got there, there were no lawyers in the house. But 80s, 90s, New York City fashion, the big four, and by the big four I mean, Calvin, Donna, Tommy, and of course, Ralph, all coming online kind of planting a flag for American fashion. What was that like? Where those salad days or was it hell?
KOLSUN: Well, I started my career thinking I was going to be a criminal lawyer, which is a perfect sort of segue from being a theater person. And just by the accident of faith, I needed more money and I went to a couple of law firms one big, two small, ended up at Amster Rothstein representing Ralph Lauren. The firm was a patent firm but had some big fashion clients, Ralph being the big one. And I was brought in to do enforcement work and it counterfeiting…
HAND: On patents or soft IP?
KOLSUN: No soft IP, because it was such a patent centric firm, but also had a strong trademark practice.
HAND: So for the non-lawyers listening or the non IP lawyer, soft IP—copyright, trademark.
KOLSUN: Exactly. So I did. I was very quickly assigned a lot of the Ralph Lauren litigation as an associate and it became, I guess, kind of my bread and butter in the six years that I was there. I really learned about the client, learned about the business and took a lot of depositions, settled a lot of cases, those were the days of civil seizures. I mean, it was kind of the beginning of the kind of lawlessness of counterfeiting, and learning to work with the police, with law enforcement, with the FBI, which was a lot of fun. And I think interesting for law enforcement, you know, it was like kind of nice break from their usual cases. But also many of the counterfeiters were bad guys in other arenas.
HAND: I can just think of squad car 12 saying, “We’re the Fashion Police,” parked outside of…
HAND: Some corner of Chinatown.
KOLSUN: Yeah. And it was a great collegial group of people. I got very involved at the time with the international IACC, International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition. I was on the board. I was chairman of the board. And those were the days also of eBay, the beginning of online counterfeiting and auction sites like eBay. The Tiffany versus eBay lawsuit came a little bit later,
HAND: Well, I want to get the chronology but let’s put a pin in and just maybe unpack for listeners counterfeiting versus copying, you know, what’s the scale in terms of an item which is knocked off and what are the appropriate phrases for that?
KOLSUN: Well knockoff is really kind of a misnomer at times. I mean, there’s true counterfeit, which is what you see in Chinatown…
HAND: Same label, same trademark.
KOLSUN: Same label, same trademark, convincing consumers, trying to convince consumers that this is the real thing…
HAND: This is the real Gucci bag, it’s just 35.
KOLSUN: Exactly, because we can make it cheaper, because we know the factory that dumped it out the back door, you know, etc, etc. On the other hand, as we well know, many consumers know perfectly well that it’s a fake, that it’s a counterfeit. So it’s substantially identical. That is the simple way to for counterfeit. Knockoff is a whole different concept; an infringement also. I mean, obviously, the fashion business, as you’ve talked about, is a business of inspiration. You know, most designers are inspired. If you read Women’s Wear Daily around market time, you see pages and pages of designer’s inspiration and it comes from…
HAND: Mood board.
KOLSUN: Exactly. And it comes from other eras. And that’s okay. Then there’s the cross over…
HAND: It’s necessary, right?
HAND: They can’t have a mood board full of naked people.
HAND: Well, I guess, you know, you could but…
KOLSUN: So inspiration is okay. And then we get into infringement or…And knockoff is—again, I really don’t like the word knockoff because it could mean infringement and a lot of people use it to mean counterfeiting, and it’s kind of neither. So I would say that the two concepts that your listeners should keep in mind are true counterfeits, you know, this is a Prada bag, it’s not a Prada bagversus infringement, which is one designer saying you copied me.
HAND: And one very actionable.
HAND: On a trademark basis, you know, certainly and perhaps on other IP bases. The other much more difficult…
HAND: …A wide amount of gray area.
HAND: Okay, so back to you and back to 80s, 90s and leaving private practice and going in house. How did that happen? Were you sort of the captive associate working for…? Kate Spade was your first in house position?
KOLSUN: Yes. Actually, no, my first in house position was Calvin Klein jeans, which was the licensee for Calvin Klein.
HAND: They had an in house legal department at that time?
KOLSUN: They had one lawyer who was a corporate lawyer.
HAND: Massive in house team.
KOLSUN: John Jones who was 29 years old. And the company went from a $60 million to a $600 million company in about a year because Calvin Klein jeans were—that was the beginning of…
HAND: And they had a 29 year old GC? Wow!
KOLSUN: Exactly. And he hired me. He came to an IACC meeting. When Calvin Klein jeans realized…It was called designed—the holding company, Designer Holdings, which was a public company. And again, it was the licensee of Calvin Klein for jeans wear. And John came to an IACC meetingbecause I believe his board, his management said, “Oh my gosh! We have a huge counterfeiting problem.” And I was the chairman of that meeting, and I spoke on a panel with Lee Sporran about third party liability. It was the beginning of suing the deep pockets, suing the landlords, suing the flea market owners, etc. And we started chatting and I heard overheard him say, “I really need an in house lawyer to handle enforcement.” And I called him the next day and said, “I’d love that job.”
I had been in law firms for, oh gosh, 12 years so I was not a neofight. I’d been at a big firm for three years; six years at Amster doing serious trademark work—was one of the good trade IP firms. And so it just felt like time. It was also, you know, women in partnership was very complicated in those days, particularly in the old world of a patent firm, which was pretty male-heavy. So it was a great opportunity. And John, like all of my jobs, John said, “Okay, come on by tomorrow and meet Arnie Simon, the CEO,” and I got the job. And I started, I guess two weeks later and dove right into a lawsuit involving Costco and Calvin Klein Jeans…
HAND: Which I think makes its way into our case book.
KOLSUN: Exactly. And furthermore, which we both teach, because there’s a very good Harvard Business School study of the Warnaco-Calvin Klein lawsuit, which is probably one of the key learning tools for any lawyer who wants to know about the pitfalls of licensing. So anyway, that was my first project, was dealing with Costco. And I was there for a year and then guess what? We were acquired by Warnaco, which was the licensee and beneficial trademark owner of Calvin Klein for underwear.
HAND: Massive, massive business at the time and still is.
KOLSUN: Exactly. So they acquired us a year after I started there and I lost my job after…They kept me on. Actually, I was a pretty much the last woman standing because of the Warnaco-Calvin Klein ultimately lawsuit, I had a lot of information, which was useful and I actually moved over to Warnaco for several months.
HAND: And then to Kate Spade to build out their legal department?
KOLSUN: Right before that, I was at West Point Stevens because I had met Lee Sporran who was Assistant General Counsel at Ralph Lauren when I was doing all the Ralph Lauren work and after I left Warnaco, I called Lee and said I need a job and he said West Point Stevens, which was the Ralph Lauren licensee for home products and everybody else’s licensee, for that matter. And he said, “The Assistant General Counsel is leaving, really doesn’t want to do a big search, go meet him.” And I met him and I got the job. And it was a great, great three years; really learning about the soon to depart textile industry, licensing because we were everybody’s licensee. And also about sourcing because the business was moving from total US based, you know, WesternStevens was in Alabama, Georgia, Maine, all over the South, South Carolina, North Carolina, to China, to Turkey, to Brazil, to all the places where our sheets and towels and home products are now made.
And I was there for three years. And I was in the showroom one day. And a very attractive group of people were poking around. And I said to someone who was that group, and they said, “Oh, it’s the Kate Spade people. They’re here. They want to talk to us about maybe becoming their home licensee.” And that’s how I met the Kate Spade people. I met Robin Marina, who was the CEO. I made a kind of snarky remark about you guys have a big counterfeiting problem in Chinatown. And I said, “I’d love to give you some free advice.” I said, “I worked at Calvin Klein.” I said, “I’d love to help you out.” So she grabbed my card. She gave me her card. She called me the next day. I went over to the office, met Kate and Andy Spade, laid out a whole enforcement program on a napkin for them. And they called me within days and said, “Would you like to come work for us?” So that’s how I got my first general counsel job.
HAND: What was it like building out the infrastructure for…Because at that point in time, they were probably doing in excess of 10 million at least.
KOLSUN: They were almost a 70. They were $70 million business when I leftthree years later, so they were small business. It was a really wonderful place to… I never felt like I was in imposing, you know, some kind of order or anything. I mean, they were a family. I mean, it was the truly one of the happiest three years of my life. They were, you know, I’m sure your listeners know, it started by Kate and Andy Spade and their two best friends: Elise Errands, who’s still involved with the Kate Spade name, and in Pamela, and Robin Marina was the CEO they were building out…The company at the time was owned—I can’t remember if it was 50%, there about—by Neiman Marcus, which also owned Laura Mercier.
So I had a great resource at Neiman Marcus. Their legal department had a wonderful General Counsel and a small team that was very helpful. But the first line of attack was counterfeiting, because it was right there in Chinatown. And I did something which was just common sense, which is called all the other handbag companies, most of whom I knew from IACC and Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein days, and said, “Why don’t we get together and…” This was the beginning of teamwork. The counterfeiting really wasn’t about doing it just for your brand but the more…
HAND: Coordinated action.
KOLSUN: Exactly. The more coordination, the more likely you were to get law enforcement involved. So I met with that whole gang, joined the IACC. I think I was chairman of the board. I can’t remember if I was chairman of the board during the Kate Spade years or when, but that was the first order of business. And then we also had outside counsel handling our trademarks. And we were such a small company and there had been a lot of applications globally so I was charged with kind of, I guess honing that in, managing it and took that over. And then slowly other things kind of…
HAND: The day to day reality. Did they have brick their own brick and mortar?
KOLSUN: We had store in Soho, which is I believe still there. It was one freestanding store in Soho. There was some foreign distribution already. There were accounts in Asia, in Japan, I believe, a little bit of in Europe. So there was that. Then there was licensing. I spent a lot of time on licensing because Kate really built—that business was really built initially on licensing. And there was an eyewear license already, there was a shoe license with Shorts and Benjamin. Kate loved paper so there was a cranes license. Lots of really adorable,totally…It was a really lovely licensing program and very organic, just like this is what we’re interested in, particularly Kate.
HAND: And so authentic.
KOLSUN: Yeah. And that’s why I think it was such a delicious brand at the time.
HAND: Indeed. I mean, licensing a big part of Kate Spade and a lot of brands at that point in time, and a model which is still with us today. Can you describe it a bit just in terms of both the business and legal realities of what licensing is?
KOLSUN: Well, I think for a small brand like Kate Spade, it was a great way to branch into areas that you don’t have expertise in. I mean, I think perfume is the perfect fragrance. I mean, how many fashion brands can manufacture fragrance? So what do you do? You enter into a license with an Estee Lauder or L’Oreal or one of the big brands which then can make the, you know, manufacturer the perfume and the beauty products, which have health and safety issues. Have the expertise to do that,
HAND: The packaging.
KOLSUN: The packaging, the manufacturing…
HAND: And then the distribution?
HAND: Right. Because we all know, you know, it’s different. It’s ground floor typically, or today it’s specific retailers that deal with it. Sephora being kind of one of the main ones.
KOLSUN: Exactly, and eyewear, another one. I mean, I always say to my students, “Where do you buy your glasses?” And they say, “Oh, at my optometrist.” Or at one of the eyewear stores or at the airport, I mean, that is a whole other…Again, health and safety issues, because eyewear has to be UVprotected, shatterproof, all sorts of issues like that. And then other areas, other things when I think of Kate, you know the cranes paper collection. Now, as brands grow bigger, like Ralph Lauren, they start to buy back their licenses.
HAND: And why did they do that?
KOLSUN: Because you make more money that way? It’s as simple as that. I always say to my students, the answer to my question is always going to be $1 sign almost 90% of the time, because it’s an investment and as a brand grows bigger… I mean, when you enter into a license agreement, the licensee will manufacture the goods, distribute the goods, sell the goods, and…
HAND: No money out of pocket other than paying a lawyer to negotiate thatlicense.
KOLSUN: Exactly. And pay you 5% or 7% or 10% and the rest is theirs. And when you take back those licenses and start to manufacture the product yourself, then you get you know…
HAND: You get 5 or 7 or 10 cents of the dollar minus the margin and the risk.
KOLSUN: Exactly. Yes. And I was just going to say but then you take back the risk. So you can’t make it go away. Usually license agreements, you know, if it’s a new licensee, as the licensor, as the brand you want to make it a short term to test it out to see what the relationship is like. I mean licenses can be very risky. And I love teaching our licensing cases. I mean, the Martha Stewart…
HAND: That was a great one.
Nm…A great case which involved Macy’s and also the Warnaco- Calvin Klein case is a great example of what can go wrong. I mean,
HAND: The lawlessness during that time in the licensing community. So, Kate Spade and then 7 For All Mankind?
KOLSUN: Correct. I left Kate Spade because—and I hated leaving Kate Spade, but I got a great offer from 7 For All Mankind with a big paycheck boost and I needed the money to pay for college. So I went to 7 For All Mankind, which was based in LA, but I kind of commuted back to forth. It was the hot luxury denim company at the time. Peter Corral was the CEO. It was gorgeous marketing PR, beautiful product. And interestingly enough, made in the USA, unlike the brands that I had been working with…
HAND: Well, so you’ve done Calvin, you’ve done some home and tabletop and then you‘ve done Kate Spade, which was probably at that juncture mainly accessories outside the licenses.
HAND: So a move into denim as one of the very West Coast base but definitely American, you know, United States based manufacturing. So what were some of the challenges with that by coastal existence, as well as again, building out a legal department and a recognition of the importance of the law.
KOLSUN: Sure. Well, I got that job through private equity. One of my friends from Calvin Klein Jeans days was working for them as the head of licensing. And she called me and said, “Look, they really need a lawyer, private equity,the legal bills have been very high with outside counsel and they need some order.” And I interviewed and I got the job. It was a great company to work for. And it was a great board. At the time it was Bear Stearns Merchant Banking, which became Irving Place Capital,
HAND: John Howard
KOLSUN: John Howard, who I absolutely loved and used to call me the designated adult, which was a great compliment. But you know, I came in and really brought, I would say order. I mean, it was a great company, the product was magnificent, but it just needed—they were you know, when private equity owns a company, it’s about ultimately flipping it and so you want to be able to answer all those questions that the next level of investor is going to ask, you know, tell me about your trademark portfolio. Who, you know, employment issues. I mean, the company was based in Southern California, and most of the language spoken in the factory, which was right there, was Spanish, and are these people documented? You know, questions related to real estate. We had a couple of freestanding stores and were building a little bit of that. Just, you know, everything that makes a company tech.
HAND: Well, so from there to Stuart Weitzman, and now you’re in shoes.
HAND: Again with brick and mortar retail.
HAND: Again, I think with some licensing.
HAND: And I think that’s probably an appropriate—because we could do a part one completely on your career and part two on fashion law. So I think that’s an appropriate part to go to part two show because you and I both face that question because we are recognized as fashion lawyers. Well, what is fashion law? And we’ve skirted around it talking about your experiences, but when you are in an academic setting, and you’re sitting opposite someone who self identifies as a real estate lawyer or an IP lawyer, or a litigator, how do you describe what fashion law is?
KOLSUN: Well, it’s business law, really. And you’re teaching a wonderful MBA JD course at NYU, which I…
HAND: Which you started.
KOLSUN: Which I started, and it makes perfect sense. It’s a business and it’s a big business. It’s bigger than music, it’s bigger than sports, it’s bigger than entertainment and movies. And so when you think about the business of fashion, we’re talking about, obviously, IP, you’re talking about, which you know, you’re one of the experts eponymous brands, when a designer names the company after herself, who owns that trademark. We talk employment. Oh, my gosh, I spent so much time in my career on employment,
HAND: Certainly during that raft of those interim class actions, wage an hour and they still come up for brands.
KOLSUN: Dress code. We’re one of the businesses that can tell people, we’d like you to dress this way. And I always say in my students, when you go into aPrada store versus going into a Walmart, you’re going to see employees dressed in different ways. Headscarves, the Abercrombie case. Real estate. Privacy. Oh, my gosh. I mean, Doug, you and I have been working on the table of contents for our book.
HAND: We’ve gotten a little farther than that.
KOLSUN: Yes, we have. But it’s a whole new world. I mean, who knew 20 years ago that privacy was going to be such a big issue, consumer information about customers. So International, it’s an international business. So, import, export, getting goods in and out of the country, trade war, oh, my gosh, you know, I say to my students, you better be watching the news on this trade war with China because it really, really affects our business.
HAND: And brands become international really pretty much right out of the gate.
KOLSUN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Kate Spade was already International when I got there, as was 7 for all mankind. It’s an international world. E commerce, taxes, buying and selling shipping, distribution, risk. I mean, there’s nothing that is not involved in fashion law. And when we were doing our table of contents for our next book, I think we said, “Oh, we’re going to do 10 chapters,” and suddenly…
HAND: We were 17.
KOLSUN: We were at 17, exactly. So it’s a very complicated but again, business oriented course. And I think it’s really, really important. Because anybody who wants to represent a fashion designer, I mean, if you’ve represented pharmaceutical companies, you know, there’s certainly some crossovers but it’s a very specific industry. Influencers, advertising, the fact that that now the old world of Vogue and L and you know…
HAND: Large publishers are struggling, obviously. And these platforms for social media following have become incredibly pervasive, and are great way for brands to get a story that they feel is authentic out there.
HAND: Well, so let us shamelessly plug the book even more so than we havebecause why wouldn’t we? How will this book be different? There are a few books out there that are taught in fashion law courses, which mainly are, you know, New York law schools and some LA law schools, and I know you penned several others but how will this book distinguish itself?
KOLSUN: Well, it’s a book for law students and business students. It will be a case book, because our publisher is…
HAND: Carolina Press.
KOLSUN: Carolina Press. But it will also be a practice book, because you and I are both professors of practice. I mean, we’ve both been in the business. We’re not pure academics. In fact, we’re teaching because the ABA…
HAND: This is about as academic as I get, the bow tie. We both like to bring a lot of practical reality into the classroom, along with the theory.
KOLSUN: Yes, exactly.
HAND: I think that those blend well together.
KOLSUN: Yes. And that’s why we’re teaching. And that’s why we’ve both been sought after as teachers because we know the business. And our students constantly comment that we bring practice to the table. We teach a course by the way, just to shamelessly plug our FIT course. We teach a course at Cardozo called the Fashion Law Practicum, where our students who have taken fashion law from the first semester, advise FIT masters level students, all professionals in their capstone projects where you’re basically building entrepreneurial businesses. And they all routinely comment that they’ve learned so much.
HAND: It’s an excellent course. I mean, I didn’t have anything like that when I was going through NYU, both as a law student and a business school student, because you know, the proximity of FIT is a tremendous one and the ability for our students to have a virtual client that is pretty close to real, right?.
HAND: I mean, some of these FIT students put those business ideas directly into practice and so that’s a great course. So about Cardozo, you started FAME?
HAND: Describe FAME a bit. You and Lee?
KOLSUN: Yeah, we started FAME.
HAND: And the acronym stands for?
KOLSUN: Fashion Arts Media Entertainment. And we basically started—we took all of the courses that Cardozo has always taught in counseling creative types, and put them under the FAME umbrella. We always had a music law course, or we always had media and entertainment law courses. I had been teaching fashion law there for at least seven, eight years. And sports, which also falls under FAME, we’ve always had a very strong sports law departmentand we said, “You know what, this isn’t…Fashion is not about fashion anymore. I mean, as we well know, most fashion companies are involved in entertainment, are involved in, you know, the Academy Awards…
HAND: Its story creation, right?
HAND: I mean, to induce a customer, a consumer to buy a garment, which let’s face it, most of them are based on garments that were made before, theyinherently have a function. But it’s that story creation behind it— that andquality, for sure. But there’s a lot of quality product out there. What differentiates and what creates a higher price point…
HAND: Is latching into the minds of the consumer and that story resonating and making them feel that way when they dawn the clothes.
KOLSUN: I mean, when you think about the Met ball last week and the entertainers at the Met ball and the designers I mean, how many designers have been launched by creating beautiful garments for entertainers.
HAND: And Rihanna this week announcing that she and LBMH are starting a brand together in partnership from Ground Zero.
KOLSUN: Yeah. Pharell Williams. Swiss Beats, Alicia Keys’ husband is—I’m eager to get him to come speak at Cardozo because he’s an art collector. He’s a sneaker designer. He’s a Harvard Business School graduate. I mean, he’s a, you know…
KOLSUN: Renaissance man. But that’s the crossover back to FAME. That’s what makes FAME interesting. So it’s not just our courses, but it’s also our…We have wonderful programs. I mean, this year, we had Kenneth Cole,last year we had Isaac Mizrahi, we had Clive Davis, we’ve had... I mean, we’vejust had so many interesting—Chillin Evans, producer of documentaries at HBO. It’s a great program, and I’m really, really proud of it and I’m proud that you’re part of it.
HAND: Yes, I too participate on the FAME board and I find it both rewarding but as well from—because I also teach at NYU, I think it distinguishes Cardozo as having that focus. So back to dressing and how brands create these stories and how lawyers protect these stories, as far as personal presentation, you and I both are law professors but practitioners. So how do you choose to get yourself ready, whether it’s for teaching, or appearing on a podcast or showing up for work? And what do your apparel choices say about you? And we’ll dovetail that into you can also talk about what you’re in today by letting us know who you’re wearing and you know what, what season it is, if you know.
KOLSUN: Thank you. Well, I love…
HAND: Thanks for that.
KOLSUN: I love new young designers, and I have many of them in my life. So I have to tell you that I wear and buy mostly everything from one or other of my young designer friends. Today I’m wearing a jacket designed by Margarita Serrano, who was a lawyer, who was my intern several summers ago and I was at Stuart Weitzman, and she had a passion for design. And I said, “Go for it,girl. You know, life is short. “Having left the theater to go into law, started my life with a creative piece and never regretting that. I said to her, “Go for it,” and she did. And she is a perfect example of the way a new designer works these days. She doesn’t work with retail. Everything is her website. She has an office when she’s in New York, she has some space down on Spring. You probably know that place.
KOLSUN: It’s where a lot of designers…Kind of like we work for designers. She manages around models and she has a very good friend who’s a model who she met through one of my other students. I mean, they’re very small world. So Margarita Serrano, almost all my jackets are hers. I’m wearing very Thierry pants today because I love the brand and they make the best pants and I’m wearing of course, Stuart Weitzman shoes. I never have to buy another pair of shoes in my life because six years at Stuart and three years at Kate Spade, I have shoes. So what I buy, at this point in my life, almost everything I buy is from somebody I know, would be jewelry or accessories or a handbag. I feel it’s really, really important for me to support young designers. I’m wearing aCalvin Klein belt.
HAND: Of course, you’re probably set on belts for the rest of your life, too.
HAND: Well, for younger lawyers starting out, or mid-levels. And here, I want to speak specifically to women because as I mean, you’re an icon to many but you entered an industry at a time, the industry is still slanted well towards men and white men, let’s face it, in terms of positions, executive positions. And the lawyer often works with the designer, but at higher levels, the lawyer works with the executives.
HAND: What do you think is an appropriate way for a lawyer to dress? And, you know, I think it’s a challenge in many workplaces, particularly, what’s traditionally been considered a white collar workplace, because women don’t have a lot of tailored clothing options. So maybe speak to that speak to how you dealt with it in the 80s and 90s and how you would advise young lawyers to deal with it today.
KOLSUN: I think it’s important to look at the place where you’re working, the culture of the place that you’re working. Law firms, it’s still appropriate to dress the way other women dress at those law firms. I think the day of the suit is maybe behind us. I actually always wore pants to work because I was felt more comfortable with pants and as you know, I ride a bicycle to work. But on the other hand, I think the fit is important. I’m always amazed that women who wear things that are kind of too tight or too low cut. I think having good foundation wear is important. And there are so many people to ask. I mean, in the men’s world, you have a wonderful book now, which is specifically addressed to men. And the way this there’s not a lot. I mean, I think women’s wear in the workplace is changing so dramatically. Any woman who came to me and said, “Who do I talk to about dressing for work?” I would probably refer to my friend Sherry Jetta who was at Ralph Lauren and at Donna Karen.
HAND: Very well put together and very professional.
KOLSUN: She puts herself together beautifully. She wears a lot of stuff from the old days and knows how to put it together. There are wonderful stylists who don’t charge a lot of money. But again, it depends on the place.
HAND: Yeah. One of the challenges, so when I wrote The Laws of Style last year, and the ABA is my publisher, I was very reluctant to tackle women’s wear. And I think it’s a woman who needs to write The Laws of Style for women or pick her own title. But my book addresses mainly what men face in an era of business casualization, where they are now outside of the comfort zone perhaps of being able to wear a suit every day, although they certainly can wear a suit every day, and that might be good practice for people who are uncomfortable in anything else. To a degree women have been saddled with that ever since they’ve joined the workplace and the workforce, and here I’m speaking specifically at law firms or in house as lawyers because there hasn’t really been a great uniform for women.
KOLSUN: Well, let me tell you something interesting. I was at Hudson Yards last week and I went into Brooks Brothers, which I went into Brooks Brothers actually a few months ago looking for shirts and I found two fabulous women’s dress shirts kind of manage, which I loved and good price. And as you knowZack has been designing for Brooks Brothers and look, if I were a first year associate at Chairman and Sterling, I think I would start Brooks Brothers because the level of style has really been…
KOLSUN: Elevated. Dresses, adorable, not really suits but jackets and skirts, wonderful pants.
HAND: Well, Brooks Brothers for men and women, I think particularly for work wear in a conservative setting has been great, and infusing it with Zack‘s designs, because Zack is a true talent. And before that, Tom Brown and his black [inaudible 43:18] collection, I think it’s still there. So yeah, that’s absolutely a great suggestion. I think one of the further challenges that again, in writing the book I wanted to steer far clear of is in the workplace women being sexualized in ways that men are not. And so maybe I’ll put that question to you, not so much in guidance for young lawyers, but what did you face in the 80s, 90s in the workplace as the general counsel, which is often considered the bucket of cold water, the person that says no or stop or you can’t do that, to potentially a room full of men?
KOLSUN: I was always in a room full of men. The room where it happened was the room filled with men. And you know, I was very cautious with my…I mean, I remember once some very young finance guys came to West Point Stevens, and came into my office, which was clearly an executive office and said, “Where’s the coffee?” And I said, “It’s in the kitchen. Go make it.”
HAND: In your face if you stand in my doorway any longer.
KOLSUN: Exactly. But I wasn’t snarky, I just said, “In the kitchen. Go make it.” I always kind of joked about it. Where I really drew the line is being asked—and this could happen to men and women. Look at what’s going on in DC right now—to do anything illegal. And sometimes creative people don’t realize, you know, we really can’t use cut a CD of all those songs that we don’t have rights to, or we really can’t use that picture of such and such a celebrity without paying for it. So it’s a lot about education. I was so busy as aging startup lawyer—I don’t mean me aging, but the company’s aging startup—that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the way I was treated, I kind of went to work and did my work. And I don’t have any real horror stories except for salary issues, but you know, just gender disparity, finding out what other people made, or finding out who got how much when the company was sold. But that’s very true of my whole generation.
And what I’m still surprised to hear from my students, because my Cardozo alum and NYU alum and Fordham alum come to talk to me about MeTooissues that they’re having in the workplace. And I’m quite shocked at how much is still going on, despite all of the press. Both have been big firms and small, but particularly in small firms where somehow they haven’t gotten the memo yet, that we just don’t talk to women like this, and we don’t show those pictures on the screen and we don’t look somebody up and down in a lascivious way. I mean, they’re still really struggling. They’re also struggling tremendously with pay disparity. I mean, I’ve got to tell you that…And thefashion companies are guilty of it as well as our law firms. Paying lawyers, $65, 000, $70,000 after they graduate from law school to work 12 hour lawyer days, come on. I mean, I’m not going to name names, but you know who you are. I mean, it’s shocking. And I’m happy to be the mentor in terms of helping them negotiate better salary, helping them dig in their heels and say, “No, I can’t work for that.” And helping women say that’s inappropriate.
I mean, the problem with startups is that there’s not often an HR department, I mean, human resources. Not just fashion companies, but small law firms. My first question will be, “Have you talked to HR about this?” And the answer is, “Well, we don’t have HR.” Oh, my God, you know? But that’s the way it was when I went to Kate Spade, you know, it was a small company there. We weren’t there yet. Those were support staff. And the last group to get hired, you know, we’re talking about design, we need designers, we need the tech back people, we need the manufacturers. “Yeah, lawyers, HR, we’ll get to that when we get sued,” which is often what happens.
HAND: And on usually employee or employment related matter out of the gates..
HAND: Is there any shift that you’ve seen over the last 5 years, 10 years in terms of C suites in executives being at least growing numbers of women or on boards of directors? Or do you feel that it’s still locked up?
KOLSUN: It’s still slow, way too slow. I mean, very few direct boards have 50% women. I would say the best advice I would have for women, is the more business experience you have, that JD MBA, the more spreadsheet and business plan and really knowing the guts of the finances of a business is very important on a board. But it’s a long—it’s still a slog, in my humble opinion.
HAND: Well, pivoting a little bit, we’ve talked about some of the advice that you might give, in terms of brands for young lawyers to wear. But just from your perspective on the business side, what are some brands that you think interesting for doing it right from either a design perspective, or a customer engagement perspective?
KOLSUN: Well, I think people young people really care about sustainability.
HAND: I’m glad you mentioned that, because that was my next question so let’s conflict them.
KOLSUN: I think that that is, I mean, listening to the news, if we can get through the noise of you know, Trump and everything else I mean, the big issue right now is, is there going to be a world for our children and our grandchildren. And we’ve seen, you know, this is the time
HAND: And this is one of the world’s dirtiest business.
KOLSUN: We are very guilty of dumping. There’s a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, based on the Marie Kondo book of getting rid of stuff, and it’s like a big pile of apparel in the middle of the ocean coming into a point. And in we’ve got to figure that out. Eileen Fisher, I think, is extraordinary in terms of looking at that problem straight on and has been for a long time. We did a panel at Cardozo recently and had one of her folks speak and she was very compelling. So real sustainability. I’m not talking about just the words but really, really doing something.
Again, I’m very interested in the younger designers like the Margarita Serrano’s who are doing it without the help of the big box department stores. How is she going to grow? Of course, she’s going to need financing, somebody’s going to buy her at some point, and then the business will change. I’ve been through this, and this is going to be the real issue to watch because businesses change. You know, when Kate Spade was acquired first by Liz Claiborne, then it’s not the same brand, let’s face it, you know?
HAND: Well, there’s…And that’s the model of I want to create a brand that ultimately gets sold. I want a liquidity moment for all my efforts. And that is a very…We were brought up being taught that way. You see examples of billionaires all over the planet now who have had those moments. But there’s also another model, which is I just want to live my life making beautiful things, making people happy, and making money, but never necessarily having that true moment of monopoly money or buy an island money and retire. Which in a lot of ways, I feel is how the early European houses started. It was a family business, it was handed down. I mean, I know we’re in a completely different time where it’s rare that a daughter or a son does what a mother or father did necessarily. But it that era, it wasn’t necessarily we’re going to IPO at some point in time, it was more we…Gucci’s a great example and there’s a great book about it, which goes into a lot of, you know, how it went sideways from time to time as families do. But I am seeing young designers sometimes adopt that kind of an approach, which is “I don’t, you know, I’m just going to do this, because I’m making some money doing it and I love it, and I can’t not do it.”
KOLSUN: And then you look at someone like Stuart Weitzman who did it because he loved it but his two daughters did not want to be in the business. So he’s in his 70s, you know, getting up there and wanted to make sure his business lived on. And going through the many owners, it’s a big challenge. And as you know, he’s not part of the business anymore. He’s smart and out there and doing—I call it the TED Talk Circuit and he’s speaking at Penn’s graduation. And they’re naming the design school after him. So he’s, in many ways kind of lived his dream, but his brand is not his brand anymore. And that has to be difficult for somebody because the truth is, once your brand is sold, unless…I Back to the European brands, this is what they do so well. I mean, you look at LVMH, you look at in Marc Jacobs and you know, the brands that they have, you know, absorb…
HAND: Sort of incubated.
KOLSUN: And kind of didn’t steal their thunder, didn’t try to turn them into something that they weren’t and I think they’re better at that than then we are.
HAND: Well, that brings up an interesting point that you and I talked about sometimes in class, which is maybe the new model of the US based conglomerate, which we’ve seen with Michael Kors changing the name of his holding company to Capri Holdings and making several investments, several acquisitions of other brands, as well as Coach renamed Tapestry. What do you think of that as a business model? And I know it would be early returns in terms of how those brands are doing, but what do you think? Do you think we can do it right here in the US?
KOLSUN: I don’t know. I mean, the jury’s still out. I was involved obviously in the Tapestry acquisition. I have not been in a Stuart Weitzman stores since those days. I’ve been in Kate Spade stores since. It’s not the brand that I knew and loved but…Look, I don‘t want to judge because let’s—again, the jury’s stillout. Let’s see how it goes kind of long term. It allows a brand to live on. AndStuart will be the first to tell you that. He spoke Cardozo recently, you know, it allows his name and his company to continue but it’s not his company anymore. And Kate Spade’s business, you know, she was not involved. Neither she nor Andy, were involved in the business. I remember Andy Spade saying to me on the street several years after he sold that company, he said, “You know, I heard a TED talk recently, and the speaker said that a brand is like sending your kid off to college, you know, you keep them home, and you raise them right. And then you have to send them to college.” But he did use the expression five years, you know, which is a little different than sending your kid off to college but he said, “A brand should be, you know, incubated for five years, and then you then you sell it off?” I think he and Kate were very smart people and they felt like they did what they did. And gosh, when you look at that brand at the time it was sold, it was perfection, sheer perfection, in my humble opinion. And so maybe it was time for them to move on. Of course, the story has a sad ending, but…
HAND: Well, maybe that it’s a somber way to close. But I would love your thoughts on how pressure filled this industry is. I mean, there’s so much glamour associated with it. We see designers in the best light usually. How hard is it? I mean, you’ve known some of these designers as I do very, very well and they put a brave face up. But you know, apropos of Kate and apropos of Stuart doing well, but having sort of watching his brand sail off away from him. What are some of the pressures you’ve seen? And what are some of the cautionary points of guidance you could give for a practitioner who has to acknowledge that their client bases those challenges?
KOLSUN: Well, I think first, building a brand is hard, hard work. And Stuart worked 24 hours a day, Kate and Andy Spade and their team work 24 hours a day. And I think there’s a point at which, you know, one gets tired and there’s no break. And that’s true for we lawyers in house, too. I say this to my students all the time when they want to move from, for example, a big law, even withthe hours of a smaller law firm to in house, you know, I remind them I lost my job four times in my career, and not always at the best times in my life, when companies get acquired, you know, the merger, the intensity of the merger and then goodbye. So it’s a hard business. And when you think about all the brands in my lifetime, that don’t even exist anymore and you know, you read about a brand that’s closing shop and then maybe comes back. I think the…We haven’t really talked about this but authentic brands group, global brands group, you know, The Centric, I think it’s called. I mean, all these marquee brands,sequential, all the ICONIX, all these holding companies that buy up brands that have been sold, kind of didn’t work out, and then end up with these holding companies, which are basically licensing companies.
HAND: And let’s face it, they’re kind of ringing the last bit of consumer goodwill out of those brands, because it’s not like they’re really elevating them. They’re not saying hey, let’s acquire Band of Outsiders and elevate it back to a billion dollar company. The model is more, there’s still some goodwill here, let’s find…
KOLSUN: Juicy Couture. Remember when Juicy Couture was the hottest brand on Earth?
HAND: Let’s sell it into cheap underwear, and sell it at Kohl’s and Walmart and see how much more we can get out of it?
KOLSUN: Yeah, and you wonder how the founders feel about that but hopefully, they’re happy with the money they walked away with. And some of them, some founders like the woman who started Burt’s Bees took her money and bought all this land in Maine, to preserve it. I mean, people do wonderful things with their money. Stuart, now having a design school named after him and being on the speaking tour and talking to students. He loves talking to students, I mean, people, you know, that gets into what makes us happy. And I think the key is, I’ll tell you, this is a good sort of closing story. When I went to Warnaco after Calvin Klein jeans was acquired by Warnaco, I moved to Warnaco’s offices at 95 Park Avenue, and I was asked to wear a beeper. And I had a young child and I said, “I’m not going to wear a beeper.” And this is actually a good story related to your question about women. I said, “I’m not going to wear beeper.” And they said, “Well, everybody in the C suite, we have to wear a beeper.” I said, “We make underwear and jeans.” I said, “Why would you need to beep me in the middle of the night? No.” So I refused to wear a beeper at Warnaco. And I think that’s the key here is that we have to keep our lives in perspective. It’s a very, very high pressure business and it’s easy to get swallowed up into it. And I have friends who have been swallowed up into it, and forgone marriage and children and relationships and travel. As we all know, your gravestone is not going to say, I wish I’d been to Singapore.
HAND: Yeah. Well, I mean, that is a great closing point because it is very much enjoy the ride, enjoy the process and being involved in the fashion industry. There is so much to enjoy in the day to day. Barb, that’s a wrap. Thanks so much for coming in. You already have a copy of The Laws of Style, but you’ll get another one at the end of today. And any social media handles or other shout outs to our listeners before we close?
KOLSUN: Please check out the FAME website, which has a lot of programs,especially for you young lawyers, CLA programs. Watch Doug’s podcasts, they’re fabulous. And it’s a great way to really learn about the business if you are thinking about making that move from, say, a law firm to in house or even if your fashion professional, looking professionally and look for our book.
HAND: The Law of the Business of Fashion.
HAND: Thanks, Barb.
KOLSUN: Thank you.
HAND: Thank you.
OUTRO: You’ve been listening to the laws of style with Douglas hand. For more information, go to our website at www.hbllp.com. And you can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter @handofthelaw. Thank you for tuning in and stay stylish.