The Irish woman leading fight against fake Chanel goods
Christelle McKillen works on the brand’s legal team, protecting against counterfeit
Christelle McKillen: ‘Chanel is one of the most renowned luxury brands in the world, and we have some great perks, but the average working day is fairly standard.’
Working Abroad Q&A: Christelle McKillen works for Chanel on their legal team in Luxembourg, and blogs about her travels at girlsonatrain.com. Her studies and work have taken her from Belfast to Florence, Maastricht, Dublin, Brussels and Luxembourg. She shares her career path with Irish Times Abroad.
When did you first move abroad?
I studied law for my undergraduate degree in Belfast, taking one year on exchange to live in Florence as an Erasmus student in 2013. That inspired me to travel more, and made me passionate about the opportunities offered to us as EU citizens.
I worked for a year in Dublin immediately after graduation but I felt restless, so I moved to India to volunteer with an NGO scheme called International Citizen Service. I didn’t choose India, and prior to going it wasn’t high on my priority list of places to visit, but now I tell anyone who will listen that they must go if they get the chance. There is nowhere in the world like it; a rich and varied culture with very warm and welcoming people. Every day was an adventure.
On my return I enrolled for a Masters in European law in Maastricht in the Netherlands, the symbolic “birthplace” of the EU (Maastricht Treaty). Approximately 70 per cent of the student population is from overseas. It is a very small city so the students give it a vibrant and international feel.
I had been accepted to Trinity College Dublin but when I looked at the price difference and the cost of living comparison, there was no question. Masters in much of the Netherlands are taught in English, and cost €1,800. The Dutch government at that time provided financial support for all EU citizens. If I worked at least 14 hours a week, I was entitled to a non-repayable grant.
Brussels is the natural destination for many an aspiring EU lawyer, so after my Masters I moved there for work. It is only two hours from Maastricht but a world apart. The political role the city plays has blended into its identity; you will often hear several languages on the tram. It is very multicultural with a well-known African district just around the corner from the European Parliament known as Matonge. I grew to love Brussels and felt at home there despite its peculiarities.
Where do you live now?
Luxembourg, Luxembourg (yes you have to say it twice). Like most people here I moved for work, to take up a job offer at Chanel. People at home often ask: “Is that in Germany or France?” and I have to tell them, “No it’s actually a country of its own, and yes the only city in the country is also called Luxembourg”.
Luxembourg is a tiny but incredibly beautiful city, jam-packed with expats. It is really a glorified (albeit very wealthy) village. I walk 10 minutes to work, and can reach almost anywhere in the city by foot. The electric bus service is clean and frequent and almost everything runs like clockwork. The streets are gleaming and much of the population are stinking rich.
On paper it sounds like a wealthy utopia but many expats complain about Luxembourg; it is just what people here do, and you will be expected to participate.
Yes, the “city” can be boring sometimes and if you are a “work hard, play hard” type then certainly do not move here. But I am adjusting to the slow pace and have found a new appreciation for parks, walking, hiking and the great outdoors.
The hardest part was finding somewhere to live. Renting is extremely expensive and the only affordable way is to house share. I arrived in a very cold January and lived in a hotel for a month. There are lots of events catered towards expats to help them meet other likeminded people, and make friends. It takes time but you can make a life here.
What does your role at Chanel involve?
My job involves protecting the intellectual property of the brand, and legal action to reduce counterfeit. I also work a lot on social media platforms. I have to travel regularly for conferences and meetings. Everyone I work with is from a different place, from the US to Indonesia to Singapore and many more. I love working in an international environment.
Is it very glamorous?
Chanel is one of the most renowned luxury brands in the world, and we have some great perks, but the average working day is fairly standard.
Were you always interested in fashion?
I always loved clothes and read fashion magazines and style columns avidly. Since leaving Ireland my style has definitely changed. My party heels are packed away and my clothes are more understated now. I wrote an article about this recently on my blog Girls on a Train.
How did you land the role with Chanel?
Having an international work and education background certainly helped. For anyone working in the legal sector looking to enter the luxury or fashion world, the main entry point is intellectual property. If you can specialise in this, you will have a better chance, as luxury brands invest heavily in protecting their trademarks and intellectual property.
Native English speakers are always appreciated on the continent, so this can be your unique selling point with the fashion houses. It helps if you can speak a basic level of another language. There is an element of luck as well; I was on a series of short-term contracts, moving from place to place before I got this opportunity with Chanel.
I would also suggest an updated and active Linkedin profile, and following the brands and companies you admire on social media.
I would never have dreamed I would be working in luxury and fashion. It goes to show a law degree can take you anywhere.
Where do you see your future?
I love travelling, so I hope there will be more of that in my future. It was quite difficult living abroad alone in a new place in the beginning, but now I feel like I can adapt more or less anywhere. All of my family are still based in Ireland but most of my siblings have had spells living abroad and they also love to travel.
I am still only 27; there are still many more places to live and discover. For now I am content in Luxembourg and plan to stay for a few years at least, but I like the idea of not knowing what lies ahead. So much of my life so far has been decided by random chance or luck.