'My path to law was not a linear one': Louis Vuitton’s senior counsel on landing her dream job
Tiffani McDonough on how she arrived at Louis Vuitton, being mentored by Barbara Kolsun and creating the next generation of fashion lawyers
Tiffani McDonough is director, senior counsel, employment and litigation, at Louis Vuitton. She manages all domestic and international employment matters and general litigation for the company in the Americas and also serves as senior employment counsel for Berluti, a subsidiary of LVMH. She is a member of the Luxury Law Alliance advisory board
In your current role at Louis Vuitton, you manage labour and employment matters for the Americas region. Were you always interested in this practice area?
My path to law was not a linear one. From a young age, I always thought I was going to be a dermatologist. But in college, I did an internship at a local hospital and realised that not only did I not like the setting but that I am something of a germ-a-phobe. My aunt suggested that I might like law and I worked a summer job at a law firm in college. That led me to Villanova University School of Law and from the first day, I loved it. During law school, I worked as an intern at Morgan Lewis for one semester and assisted with some labour and employment matters and I knew immediately that was the area for me.
In the United States, there are only a handful of federal statutes that govern all labour and employment matters. But there is such great variety and so many human elements in these laws. Just think about the importance of laws protecting against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or providing maternity and paternity leave. Work is such a large part of our lives that I enjoy practicing in an area that makes a difference for all of us.
How did you come to work at Louis Vuitton?
I always had an interest in fashion and wanted to find a way to relate that to practicing law. Villanova law school is in the Philadelphia area and there are only a handful of fashion companies there; most are based in New York. One day during law school, I cold called Barbara Kolsun – who many of us in the Luxury Law Alliance know as a fashion law professor at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. At the time, she was general counsel of Kate Spade. Barbara took my call. She is a remarkable person. We kept in touch and she offered me an externship position when she became general counsel of 7 For All Mankind. I travelled one day a week from Philadelphia to New York.
After the externship, I wanted to go in-house right away but Barbara gave me some very valuable advice. She said that I had to get broad legal experience because in-house doesn’t have the time to provide that training. She also told me that I wouldn’t be successful in-house unless I was passionate about my practice area and knew it inside and out.
Did you take Barbara’s advice?
Yes, I did. I practiced labour and employment law at three law firms – Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel, Cozen O’Connor, and Littler Mendelson. While at Obermayer I created a blog called HRLegalist, an online resource on the latest developments and trends in labour and employment that also has analysis and commentary regarding best practices for employers. I tried to gear the blog toward fashion and retail as much as I could. Every time I wrote on these topics, I would send the piece to Barbara. She sent one of the articles to a contact of hers at LVMH, who said they were hiring an employment counsel. Barbara put me in touch. I interviewed for the position, made it to the final round but ultimately did not get it. They told me that if something else opened up they would be in touch. Seven months later, I received a call that there was an opening for an employment counsel at an LVMH subsidiary, Louis Vuitton. I successfully interviewed for the position and started my job in 2014 at Louis Vuitton.
Barbara has been a mentor not only to me but countless others. She is responsible for launching many careers in the fashion industry, including mine. Her influence in this industry is remarkable.
-Earlier this year, you began a position as a fashion law professor at Villanova law school. Did Barbara have anything to do with that?
Yes, I truly believe her mentorship is the reason I was offered that role. Barbara made an introduction for me to the then fashion law professor at Villanova law school who has since retired and she also asked me to write the employment chapter in her fashion law textbook, The Business and Law of Fashion and Retail (Carolina Academic Press, 2020) – it’s the book that every fashion law class uses.
Because of all Barbara has done for me, I am very focused on paying it forward. For example, I oversee the Louis Vuitton Legal Externship Program and try to be available and helpful to the next generation of fashion lawyers. Being a fashion law professor allows me another opportunity to be a mentor and guide to students, just as Barbara has been to me. Teaching and mentoring holds a special place in my heart.
What is it like to work in the fashion industry?
It’s my dream job. I have the gift of working with people who are creative and passionate about what they do, and that makes for an incredible working environment. Not only do I practice law at Louis Vuitton but I am often involved in business decisions at the company. I especially enjoy being part of different projects and seeing them to fruition. It is particularly exciting to be involved in the implementation of various policies at the company and seeing the positive impact they have on employees’ professional and personal lives. Working for a company like Louis Vuitton means I get to work in a very creative environment that sets trends in the marketplace and is always one step ahead.
What are some of your interests outside of work?
I am very interested in fashion and my work doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it so much. But I do love to cook, I love to run and I also love to travel and experience different cultures.
Louis Vuitton makes so many beautiful things. Do you have any favourites?
The Capucine is my favorite go-to-style of handbag. On my wish list, I would love to purchase one of the Louis Vuitton trunks. There is something very special about vintage items like those.