By  on August 26, 2009

NEW YORK — Seventy years after being founded as Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, the private and independent college here has undergone a name change to LIM College.

With 1,300 undergraduates and an M.B.A. program, the new moniker more aptly describes the mission of the school.

“We thought it was important to take the temperature of who we were, and we brought in branding consultants to look at everything from top to bottom. Everything was up for grabs,” said Elizabeth S. Marcuse, president of LIM College, and the third generation of the founding family. She explained there was heritage in the acronym, LIM, and putting college after it better explained the school’s mandate, which will be communicated in a new logo, brochures and other promotional vehicles. There’s also a new tag line: “Where Business Meets Fashion,” which replaces the old one, “The College for the Business of Fashion.”

LIM is the only college in the U.S. focused exclusively on the study of business and fashion, combining in-class instruction with required internships in the fashion industry — a key component of the school. The college focuses on the fields of fashion, marketing, management and visual merchandising.

“We’re definitely coming up on the radar,” said Marcuse, who cut her teeth in the retailing and manufacturing industry prior to joining LIM in 2001 as vice president and chief operating officer. Earlier, she was the director of retail planning for Donna Karan International. She has also been a buyer for Montgomery Ward and Lane Bryant, and began her career in the executive training program at Macy’s. In 2002, she assumed the presidency of LIM upon the retirement of her father, Adrian G. Marcuse. At the time, the school had 340 students. The school was founded in 1939 by her grandfather, Maxwell F. Marcuse.

“He set up a mock store [with actual counters and merchandise] and the experiential learning is the backbone of this institution,” she said. The original mission was to establish a school for women to be trained in skills other than secretarial, said Marcuse. The school graduated its first class of 79 women in 1941 (it was a two-year program at the time) and became co-ed in 1971. Today the breakdown is 94 percent female and 6 percent male among the undergraduates, and 89 percent female, 11 percent male in the M.B.A. program.

In 1977, the school received Middle States accreditation. In 1982, the Bachelor of Professional Studies degree granting powers were authorized, followed by the Bachelor of Business Administration in Fashion Merchandising in 1996, the B.B.A. in Marketing (1998), B.B.A. in Visual Merchandising (2003), and B.B.A. in Management (2005.) According to Marcuse, the most popular undergraduate major is fashion merchandising, followed by marketing.

While LIM doesn’t have a typical college campus, it occupies several buildings on the Upper East Side. LIM began in a building at 45 West 34th Street, which at the time was the hub of department and specialty store retailing. In 1959, the college moved to 677 Fifth Avenue and, in 1965, it bought its current flagship building at 12 East 53rd Street. In 2003 and 2004, LIM’s campus expanded to 226 East 54th Street and 216 East 45th, respectively, and in 2006, it added a state-of-the-art facility at 545 Fifth Avenue at 45th Street. LIM’s 53rd Street flagship townhouse underwent extensive renovations in 2007, and last year, LIM brought its student housing under one roof at 1760 Third Avenue.

More recently, LIM acquired 17,000 square feet of new space at 216 East 45th Street, including the Center of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education, and opened a new college bookstore and Jittery Joe’s Cafe on the street level. It also transformed space at East 54th Street into The Center of Career Development.

Last spring, the school initiated an M.B.A. program, with concentrations in fashion management and entrepreneurship. The school offers evening classes and flexible scheduling, so professionals can also enroll. The 15-month program launched in March with 20 students, and there are 40 students enrolled this fall.

Two of LIM’s major selling points are its location in the heart of the fashion industry and its track record placing graduates in jobs in the sector. The school is known for placing more than 90 percent of its students in fashion industry jobs within six months of graduation, although this year is proving more problematic due to the recession.

So far, 90 percent of the January 2009 graduates have found employment, but only 30 percent of the May graduates. Some of the companies that have employed this year’s graduates are Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s training program, Tiffany, Topshop, Lacoste, Bulgari and Bergdorf Goodman. Their areas range from event planning and public relations to buying, merchandising and account executive.

“It’s the hardest year. I’m actually very surprised and pleased with our January numbers,” said Marcuse. “We did a lot of proactive things at the college, and we look at it as a time of opportunity. It will always re-gentrify. We’re expanding the base of who [our graduates] would work for and asking them to think more out of the box. It’s clearly been challenging. We’ve seen a lot of grads going to get master’s degrees.”

LIM’s connections to the fashion industry have also resulted in an extensive roster of visiting professors and guest lecturers. Guest lecturers over the past few years have included Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, Bergdorf Goodman; Glenda Bailey, editor in chief, Harper’s Bazaar; Diana Bernal, director of store planning and visual merchandising at Van Cleef & Arpels; Lynda Campbell, vice president of operations at Scoop NYC, and Robert Verdi, TV personality and style expert.

Some of the industry professionals who teach at LIM part-time, while retaining their jobs in the industry are: Tim Ceci, director of the men’s store at Barneys New York (adjunct professor of management); Paul Olszewski, director of windows at Macy’s Herald Square (adjunct professor of visual merchandising), and Raymond Mastrobuoni, who retired after 40 years as assistant vice president of visual merchandising and store planning at Cartier (now an adjunct professor of visual merchandising).

“I’d say one of the challenges we would face is to ensure that the education we deliver to our students is as cutting edge as the industry warrants,” said Marcuse. “We’re a fairly nimble institution.” She said the industry tells the college what the students have to have so it delivers graduates the industry needs. As part of the undergraduate curriculum, students must work full-time in the fashion industry for five weeks during each of their freshman and sophomore years, and then they are required to fulfill a 15-week internship in their major during their senior year.

“They say the kids are driven, focussed, hungry and passionate about the industry,” said Marcuse. “They’re able to hit the ground running.”

Mark Mendelson, president of Ellen Tracy, who sits on LIM’s advisory board, said, “I have been working with LIM for over 10 years. Their kids are great and the teachers are great. I have had interns, co-op students for a semester where they get college credit, and have hired their graduates.”

Marcuse noted the economy has impacted the school in several ways. Some 78 percent of the student body gets some form of financial aid. Tuition is $19,900 a year and, combined with housing, the cost totals $35,000. The school raised tuition by only 3 percent this year, its smallest increase in 30 years. Seventy-five percent of the students are from the Tristate area, and 50 percent commute.

Asked how the shifting of the fashion business overseas has impacted job opportunities and the curriculum, Marcuse said, “They understand they run the back of the house [they’re not the designers]. LIM exposes them to the global industry and they understand the world is inter-connected.” This summer students took a two-week field trip to China with two professors and visited Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

LIM’s course offerings range from Business Law, Statistics, Spreadsheet Applications, Economics, Finance and Retailing to liberal arts offerings such as The Immigrant Experience, Women’s Literature, Modern Poetry, Theater Essentials and Race and Identity.

Marcuse said the school is considering adding a continuing education program over the next year. This year it added an online degree completion program for alumni who already hold associate degrees and are now seeking bachelor’s degrees.

This summer, LIM launched Fashion U, a five-week summer program for 25 visiting college students, who were offered courses ranging from Urban Chic: From Concept to Catwalk and Cultural Connections to Fashion to Fashion Show Production and Fashion Styling. LIM also began a Fashion Scholars Program this year, with the opportunity to study courses with increased rigor. It accepted 15 students into the inaugural program.

Among some of the more notable graduates in the industry are Doug Jakubowski, chief merchandising officer of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc.; Luisa Herrera, senior vice president of merchandising, John Varvatos; Kathy Nedorostek, president, U.S. wholesale, Coach Inc., and Neva Hall, executive vice president of Neiman Marcus Stores.

Jakubowski told WWD, “The biggest advantage of going to this school is if you don’t have the design skills, it offers an all-encompassing curriculum that guides you down a career path in fashion, that’s not all design. Other [fashion] schools have a stronger emphasis on design.

“It’s a relatively small school with great relationships with the industry at large, at the wholesale, retail and all levels,” he added. “I had great guidance and great preparation for the realities of this industry,” said Jakubowski, who serves on LIM’s advisory board. He said over the years, he’s hired graduates from the school, and has several on staff at Kenneth Cole.

After working for most of her career in the fashion industry, Marcuse feels at home in the world of academia. She spends a great deal of her time attending professional organizations and addressing state and federal educational issues. “I am passionate about the industry I spent 20 years in. I’m passionate about the students. I’m dedicating the rest of my life to it, and I have a very good relationship with them.”

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