News & Runway

How I Got To Be…Special Projects Director at J. Mendel

Flavia showing off her dramatic flair in J. Mendel

Few people can light up a room with their personality, but Flavia Masson's unique gift for storytelling and her flair for fashion allow her to do just that. Her career in fashion began as a sales assistant at Sonia Rykiel while she was still in college. Soon after graduating, she took over running the high-end jewelry line Francesca Visconti and helped develop Visconti's lower end collection, which she then sold on QVC. Fluent in French (she is the daughter of Charles Masson, owner of La Grenouille, the famed French restaurant favored by fashion heavyweights like Anna Wintour and Linda Fargo), she packed up and moved to Paris to work for Chanel in 2010. When an opportunity arose to work for J. Mendel as the brand's special projects director, however, Masson couldn't say no and jetted back to Manhattan a year later.

We spoke with Masson to get insight on what it's like to go from working for yourself to working for mega brands like Chanel and J. Mendel, where her career began, what she thinks everyone who works in fashion should be expected to do, and more.

The Fashion Spot: Growing up, did you have any idea what you wanted your career to be?

Flavia Masson: Yes, from a young age, I convinced myself that I would become a great star of the stage and screen.

tFS: Has your background in acting/theater helped you in terms of pursuing a non-Hollywood career?

FM: Absolutely. My passion for film and the dramatic arts has instilled my love for fashion; drama and fashion go hand in hand! I quickly realized through my acting courses and through the films I watched, that the clothing was what helped define a character. I apply that to myself every day; which character do I want to dress up as? My theatrical background has certainly trained me to dress for whatever role I choose to play and to dress other people for their parts. Also, I feel very comfortable speaking to people thanks to my acting classes. Everyone should take an acting class!

tFS: What did you study in school?

FM: I studied Film Theory and Analysis with a minor in Visual Arts. College for me has always been an opportunity to receive a higher education and pursue the knowledge that you feel passionate about. I could have studied business or marketing, but that’s all common sense to me, I didn’t feel I needed to spend four years focusing on common sense and I’m glad I didn’t. So much of what I learned in studying the arts is applied in my everyday life, inside and outside of the office, and has contributed a lot to who I am today. Studying the various forms of human expression has been incredibly valuable.

tFS: How do you think growing up in NYC has influenced your career?

FM: Growing up in New York City has given me common sense. New York also moves at an unusually fast pace and the people here have very high expectations for everything. I’ve adapted to that since I was very little.

tFS: Can you describe how fashion, specifically, has played a part in your life?

FM: I always thought that fashion played one of the most important parts in film and theater. I decided to focus on the fashion element and that’s how I landed a career in the fashion industry. I may not be the movie star I once hoped I would become but fashion has become a tool that helps me feel like a movie star every day.

tFS: What was your first job in fashion?

FM: My first job in fashion was working as a sales associate at Sonia Rykiel in Boston while I was still in college. That was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had because I learned how to establish relationships between the clients and the brand. The sales floor of a boutique is the best place to have that hands-on experience. A brand cannot exist without product and without clients. One must spend time with those key ingredients if they want to develop a career in this business. I always say that in luxury, products are not bought, they are sold. I learned how to sell while I worked at the Sonia Rykiel boutique, and it’s a good skill to have for every job. I think it should be a rule in every company for employees to spend at least five days as a salesperson in their stores.

tFS: What's it like being on QVC? Anything that would surprise people?

FM: QVC was an interesting experience. The challenge for me was to appear as someone that I am not. I kept being asked to interact with the viewers as if I was their “friendly neighbor.” I grew up in New York…my name is not Mr. Rogers and I am not your friendly neighbor. Overall, though, it was a good experience to have. I don’t know if I was entirely cut out for it, but I learned a lot. Each time my show aired, I had 50 minutes to sell thousands of pieces. The show was always live. Bumping into Joan Rivers on set was always fun!

tFS: What was it like transitioning from working on your own schedule to working for a huge brand like Chanel?

FM: Not easy in the beginning. I was always used to being my own boss and doing things on a smaller scale. Suddenly I had an entire corporation to answer to! In the corporate world, if you don’t adapt to the culture, you sink. I chose to swim.

tFS: What are some of the differences between working for a luxury brand that operates on a huge scale like Chanel to one that is equally as luxurious but operates on a considerably smaller scale like J. Mendel? Is one more stressful than the other?

FM: I wouldn’t say that one is more stressful or less stressful than the other; I don’t like to focus on stress. One of the many exciting things about working at J. Mendel is that the company continues to develop and grow every day. It’s very rewarding to feel that you are part of something like that. I’m a person with strong opinions and I feel very passionate about what I do. At a giant like Chanel, I felt I was not able to express myself as much as I would have liked. I had to conform to a specific structure, which was great in some ways, because I learned about their formula, which is clearly a successful one. In other ways, it felt limiting. 

At J. Mendel, I get to use my sense of creativity as well as my pragmatic sense. I love being able to make lasting decisions and develop ideas. There is also a true feeling of teamwork in our office; even people who work in different departments come together to create a team effort. One rarely finds that in a large structure, because there are generally so many people per department and every branch is divided. Our smaller size allows for great development within the company as well; people’s efforts here are truly appreciated and recognized. One of the reasons why I accepted the job was because I have the privilege of working directly with Mr. Mendel. It’s not every day that one gets to work with such an esteemed designer and it’s a great feeling!

tFS: In a nutshell, what does your job at J. Mendel entail?

FM: I work closely with Mr. Mendel to provide our VICs (Very Important Clients) with custom designs and I oversee the execution of all couture pieces. I develop VIC relationships as well as special events for them, products, services, etc. It’s a cool job, I’m not going to lie.

tFS: What's a typical day like for you?

FM: There is nothing typical about any day for me. My overall mission is to provide our top VIPs with top design and top service.

Flavia's go-to Prada loafers

tFS: On a typical day, what do you wear to work?

FM: I generally like to wear flats, because there’s a lot of running around involved. I have a pair of platformed men’s shoes from Prada’s Fall 2011 collection and they are lifesavers! I like to wear those with a fitted pencil skirt and an oversized sweater with lots of jewelry. Big necklaces, big rings, and big bracelets. When it’s chilly I like to add a J. Mendel fur bolero or scarf! So lush. I try to be creative with my outfits every day and mix things up according to my mood.

tFS: One luxury item you're dying to splurge on for Spring/Summer 2012?

FM: There are too many to name. One piece I’ve had my eyes on for a while is an iris and black colored fur vest; it’s a wardrobe necessity from our Spring collection that can adapt itself to any season. It’s very rock and roll!