Jessica Mastrogiovanni – New York & Company
In the apparel industry, ideas are a company’s lifeblood. Fresh designs, new fashion lines, trendsetting concepts—businesses have entire teams dedicated to brainstorming the next big thing.
With a multitude of ideas, one can imagine the legal touch points are as many and close together as pencil stripes on a blouse. Among them, corporate governance, employment, commercial contracts, technology, privacy, e-commerce, litigation, intellectual property, real estate—if it needs to be done, Mastrogiovanni and the New York & Company legal team are there to ensure it’s all legally intact.
“Our job is to help support the company’s growth opportunities and our work must always be consistent with the mission and goals of the company,” says Mastrogiovanni, assistant general counsel for RTW Retailwinds Inc. (which operates as New York & Company) whose portfolio includes branded merchandise from New York & Company, Fashion to Figure, and Uncommon Sense. “We respond to the varying needs of multiple departments and build day-to-day working relationships with colleagues that have differing backgrounds.”
Eyes on the ball
Founded in 1918, New York & Company has become synonymous with women’s fashion. An omni-channel, digitally enabled retailer with stores in more than 30 U.S. states, the company provides curated fashion solutions that are versatile, on-trend and stylish, at a great value.
It’s the job of Mastrogiovanni and the New York & Company legal team to ensure the company’s strategies and initiatives are fully supported. It’s a purview that includes everything from employment compliance and IP protection measures to risk management, litigation and managing the company’s relationships with its vendors.
“As an in-house lawyer, I see myself as a partner with the business to support its success,” Mastrogiovanni says. “It’s a really rewarding level of commitment, and different from what lawyers experience in private practice. You have to be ready to deal with a wide range of needs in a dynamic environment, which is why we’ve tried to foster a cross-functional approach within the department. We all learn from one another.”
Given New York & Company’s sizable workforce, employment law looms large. Mastrogiovanni often collaborates with the company’s HR department to update company policies, implement training and ensure systems are in place to maintain compliance.
“It’s important to get it right both legally and culturally,” Mastrogiovanni explains. “Like most companies, our corporate culture is important. We strive to make sure that our policies reflect the company’s values and are consistent with all applicable laws.”
That collaborative ethic is also in full display when working with outside counsel. That includes Joe Piesco, a partner at the New York office of global firm DLA Piper, who has worked with Mastrogiovanni on a number of business-critical matters.
“Jessica has been amazing client in large part because she’s so easy to work with,” says Piesco. “She’s always on top of her game, and there’s never been a challenge or legal issue she hasn’t been able to handle.”
Such dynamics are especially important when tackling hot-button issues like data diligence and cybersecurity.
“To be compliant in today’s data environment, you really have to have all your bases covered,” says Donna Wilson, chief executive officer at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, whose expertise in the areas of data and technology Mastrogiovanni has often sought. “Jessica and the New York & Company team are incredibly detail oriented, so that makes our job a whole lot easier.”
From the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act to state laws like the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act, the firm has helped Mastrogiovanni and the New York & Company legal team scale data diligence compliance hurdles.
Her own beat
While the seeds of her legal career were planted early, thanks to a middle school mock trial class where she relished the role of judge, Mastrogiovanni’s first passion was for the drums.
“What drew me to drumming was how it represented the foundation for all music,” she reflects. “Jazz, funk, rock, blues—all of it requires good drumming. Even though I was often the only female drummer on stage, I loved being a strategic part of developing a piece of music. It taught me to be confident and poised in my delivery.”
To say that lesson has served her well would be an understatement. Just as she did as a young musician, Mastrogiovanni has embraced the role of mentor, helping young attorneys “find their beat” in what remains an intensely competitive professional field.
After graduating from New York University in 1997—and a subsequent three-year stint in marketing—Mastrogiovanni received a scholarship to attend Brooklyn Law School. While there, she was one of only 200 students worldwide chosen to participate in the United Nations Internship Programme.
Finding her fit
As a young attorney at the New York-based Proskauer Rose LLP, Mastrogiovanni often argued her own cases, appreciating the hands-on learning and ultimately preparing her for the role she now occupies.
After 12 years in private practice (the final four of which she spent at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone), Mastrogiovanni made her in-house debut as the vice president and general counsel at Premier Education Group LP, a longtime client of MLG&B which operates for-profit vocational educational institutions throughout the Northeastern U.S.
As the company’s first ever in-house lawyer, Mastrogiovanni once again found herself breaking barriers.
“I had to build out a legal group,” recalls Mastrogiovanni, who was quickly promoted to executive vice president, chief legal officer and chief compliance officer. “It was a tremendous learning experience.”
A new rhythm
Having developed a knack for translating legal advice into practical business strategies, Mastrogiovanni joined New York & Company as assistant general counsel in August of 2018 and served as interim general counsel from October 2018 to April 2019.
It’s a role for which her constant thirst for new experiences and being a part of a strong foundation prepared her well.
“Being that strategic partner is one of the most satisfying parts of my role. Overriding opportunities is easy; finding a way to make it work is the tough part,” Mastrogiovanni says. “I am at my best when challenges are complex and have shifting variables; it’s like piecing a musical production together.”
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