In the Bag: How Urna found her dream role with a French designer brand

For American Urna Biswas, a career with a Paris-based luxury brand was a lifelong goal – albeit not one that she thought she'd achieve so quickly. That would change in the space of one exciting week.

In the Bag: How Urna found her dream role with a French designer brand
Following her time at ESSEC, Urna took on a role at luggage brand Delaney/ Photo: Supplied

Having spent a number of years in the field of business development, Urna joined ESSEC’s Global MBA cohort at their Paris campus in 2020. She opted to pursue the Luxury Brand Management major, in the hope of securing a job with one of the glamorous, iconic brands she grew up admiring.

“It was always an industry I wanted to make a career in, and that dictated my choice to study business and French. The goal of working in Paris never left my head for over a decade, so eventually, I decided to swallow my fears and enrol in the ESSEC Global MBA.”

Urna enjoyed coming to grips with new ways of thinking and doing business in Europe as part of the challenging programme, and was soon learning from some of the luxury industry’s top talents. She also relished building a new life in France: mastering the language, finding an apartment, making new friends and exploring all that Paris had to offer.  

“While I studied French at university, it was also another thing entirely using it constantly for the first time! The French you use to get around Paris is completely different to the French you use in a professional context, and to develop your networks.”

One of Urna’s favourite elements of the MBA were the ‘case competitions’ – competitive team problem-solving events, drawing on a vast library of business case studies. These competitions were designed to immerse students in the real-life workings of famous brands and were often judged by senior executives. 

ESSEC Global MBA students work with real-life case studies from the world’s most exclusive luxury brands. Discover how you can join them

“Nobody’s travelling. What do we do?”

One of these case studies involved luxury luggage brand Delsey, which was facing a Covid-19-related quandary.

“This was as the pandemic was impacting everything and they told us, ‘We’re Delsey, we make luggage. Nobody’s travelling. What do we do?'”, Urna remembers.

“Luckily, I was able to spend a week with my team preparing non-stop, all hours of the day. We were incredibly focused! There were lots of coffees and late nights.

“We created profiles for four different types of pandemic consumers, and this helped us to identify how Delsey could refocus their line of products to appeal to the market. More backpacks, for example, and luggage designed for those who needed to keep travelling, despite delays and reduced checked baggage allowances.

“We were all able to bring our separate talents in strategy, presentation and design together to create a really strong digital plan that we presented to Delsey Chief Marketing Officer Miriam Hendel.”

So impressed was Hendel that she awarded Urna’s team first place for their presentation at ESSEC, noting that it was better than many pitches by established agencies,

Hendel also kept in touch with Urna and when hiring picked up as the pandemic eased, she brought her on board as Marketing Manager and Media Planner – an astonishing feat, considering the competitive nature of the luxury brand space. 

Urna says: “I’m so lucky to be at Delsey, I really love my role. I still have a close bond with Miriam – a strong female director who kicks ass – and I really enjoy the trust she places in our team. It’s a small team and we’re able to support one another and share ideas all the time. We also spend a lot of time together outside of the office.

“It’s so different from corporate environments in the United States. We work hard here, but there’s a lot of time for discussion and finding a better, or more effective way of doing things. It’s a good balance and I find it really rewarding.”

Want a career working with luxury brands? ESSEC’s Global MBA in Luxury Brand Management will open up new paths to success

Following graduation from the Global MBA programme, Urna secured a job with luxury bag brand Delsey. Photo: Supplied

Understanding the DNA of luxury brands

Beyond the case studies, Urna says the ESSEC Global MBA programme as a whole gave her the skills she needed to succeed in working for a luxury brand.

“We simply don’t employ the same kind of marketing strategies in the United States as we do here in France. We have fewer luxury brands and fashion houses. It’s a different world, in some ways. The MBA was crucial in helping me understand how luxury brands in Europe really operate.

“The ESSEC Global MBA was also so structured and focused, in such a way that we could really analyse the ‘DNA’ of luxury brands and apply what we learned to changing market trends. I also developed the ability to employ strategy, rather than just my own thinking. This really helped me, as I’ve always valued taking a qualitative, analytical view of things.

“I also have to stress how valuable it was working in really international classes. We had such diverse teams, with so many different experiences and points of view. My cohort taught me so much about the luxury brand space in places like Asia, and this helped shape a truly global point of view.”

An experience that doesn’t fade

While she’s now busy in her dream role and with enjoying life in Paris, Urna hasn’t let her time at ESSEC fade into the background.

“Although we’re all over the world, I still connect with my class – a group of girls in Korea, for example – and we continue to share our experiences and learn from one another all the time,” she says. “It’s an incredibly valuable resource.

“I’m also keen to help new cohorts establish themselves in Paris and get settled in. Who knows what they could achieve, with the lessons and skills they learn at ESSEC?”

ESSEC’s Global MBA in Luxury Brand Management is your gateway to a career with the world’s most iconic luxury brands

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Explained: France’s new property renovation grant

Ma Prime Logement Décent, which came into effect on January 1st, offers financial assistance to property owners for major home improvements.

Explained: France’s new property renovation grant

The French government has several financial assistance schemes that are open to property owners to help finance renovation projects, especially those aimed at making homes more energy efficient.

GUIDE: French property grants you might be eligible for

Now a new one has been launched, aimed at property that is in a dilapidated and run-down state. The idea is both the ease the housing shortage that is a problem in several French cities and ensure that people are living in decent conditions. 

Launched on January 1, 2024, Ma Prime Logement Décent (My Decent Housing Bonus) has enabled property owners to obtain financial assistance for renovation work on run-down housing. 

Homeowners on a modest income can apply for the Ma Prime Logement Décent financial aid, which is – in certain cases – up to 80 percent of the total spent, up to a maximum of €70,000.

The scheme is open to people who own their own home and people who own a property that they rent out, but is not available to second home owners. You do not need to be a French national to apply, but you must be resident in France, have a French tax number and complete the annual French income tax declaration.

The aid can only be used for work to remedy a proven health or safety risk at a property, such as:

  • unsanitary conditions;
  • a risk of lead exposure;
  • significant deterioration to a property’s fabric.

Work may include :

  • renovating an electrical or gas network;
  • replacing a roof;
  • reinforcing the foundations.

Who’s eligible?

Owner-occupiers on ‘modest’ or ‘very modest’ incomes whose main residence requires renovation can apply for the Ma Prime Logement Décent aid, if:

  • the property was built more than 15 years ago;
  • the work is carried out by qualified professionals (except very particular cases);
  • your home has been assessed by a qualified assessor.

After work has been completed, it must achieve a minimum energy efficiency rating of E.

READ ALSO What do energy ratings mean for French property owners?

Owners renting out their property can apply for this aid in the following circumstances.

  • The unfurnished property must be rented to a low-income tenant, who cannot be a family member, or a member of the landlord’s household for tax purposes;
  • The property has a capped rent – ceilings are defined annually by commune or arrondissement;
  • It has at least a level D energy efficiency rating after the work has been carried out.

READ ALSO GUIDE: French property grants you might be eligible for

How much is the help worth?

When you use Ma Prime Logement Décent as an owner-occupier, you’ll be reimbursed for :

  • 80 percent of the cost of the work if you’re part of a ‘very low income’ household (rising to 90 percent if the work also means that your home is no longer a so-called heat sieve);
  • 60 percent of the cost of the work if you are part of a ‘low-income’ household ( rising to 70 percent if the work also prevents the home from becoming a so-called heat sieve).

In both cases, the total cost of the work must not exceed €70,000.

Owners renting out their property can benefit from 35 percent of the cost of your renovation work.

An online simulator can help property owners check whether the work qualifies for the Ma Prime Logement Décent scheme.

You use terms like ‘very low income’ and ‘low income’. What does that mean?

Your revenus fiscaux de référence (RFR) are important. You’ll see the figure on your annual tax assessment – it’s basically an amount calculated by the tax administration from the total income of a tax household intended to reflect the financial resources of that household.

It helps decide what social assistance you may be entitled to.

READ ALSO MaPrimeRenov: How France’s property renovation grants will change in 2024

In the greater Paris Île-de-France region, a single person living on their own is considered to be ‘very low income’ if their RFR is €23,541 or less (€17,009 for the rest of the country), and low income if it’s €28,657 or less (€21,805 outside Île-de-France).

The scale rises to €55,427 for a very low income household of five in Île-de-France (€40,002 elsewhere); and €67,473 for a low income household of five (€51,281 elsewhere).

Okay, I think I qualify. How do I apply?

The first thing to do is create an personal account on the Agence nationale de l’habitat website

You will be directed to an information point, where you can choose an adviser for your renovation project, who will help put together your application.

Once the application has been approved and the work completed, funds will be released to cover the cost.

READ ALSO French home renovations: What grants are available to the elderly and the disabled?