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The Most Scandalous School in Fashion?

Despite its connections to the Italian fashion industry and Kardashian empire-builder Kris Jenner, the Trump Tower-based Legacy Business School has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Trump Tower | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — The Legacy Business School doesn't welcome its inaugural class of students until October 3, 2016. But the New York City-based institution — which offers courses in fashion and luxury management — is already facing scrutiny for its practices.

On August 12, 2016, the New York State Education Department sent a letter to Legacy chief executive Alessandro Nomellini, signed by Leslie E. Templeman, director for the Office of College and University Evaluation, ordering Legacy to immediately cease and desist from marketing degree programmes in New York:

"It has come to the attention of the New York State Education Department that the Legacy Business School, located at 725 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, is advertising and/or offering programs leading to the following 'UK degrees': Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Science in Business Management, without the required authorization from the New York State Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education. Therefore, Legacy Business School must immediately cease and desist from any and all advertisement and/or offering of degree programs in New York State of any kind."

Templeman’s letter went on to say the matter would be referred to the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, “for any action that office may deem appropriate.”

This is not the first time Legacy has been under scrutiny. In May 2016, the Daily Beast ran an in-depth exposé that challenged the legality of Legacy's marketing and the validity of its educational offering, detailing the school's partnership with Kardashian empire-builder Kris Jenner, who was named chairman of its board and served as an official spokesperson. Since the Daily Beast story, all mentions of Jenner have been removed from Legacy's website and, in early August, Jenner announced her separation from the organisation.

“Kris is no longer with the school. I love Kris. She is an amazing friend,” Nomellini wrote in a recent email correspondence with BoF. “I firmly believe in that and I am certain that when she will have more time in the future, she will be back at Legacy. I know that the school is in Kris’ heart.”

The executive also shared a statement from Jenner's team, first released by the Daily Beast: "Kris is honored that the Legacy Business School invited her to assist the school in its mission to provide students with real world experience," it read. "However, due to her many time commitments, she is unable to commit the necessary time in support of the school and is no longer involved."

And yet, Kardashian halo or not, Legacy is going ahead with its plans to open its doors, this autumn, to roughly 25 students, many of whom have aspirations to join the fashion industry. But can the school’s offering stand up to the growing scrutiny?

We are a very small school and we offer more than individual attention; we offer a lifestyle.

The Legacy Business School is located on the 19th floor of 725 Fifth Avenue, better known as Trump Tower. Legacy shares space with the European School of Economics (ESE), founded 22 years ago in Rome by the Italian musician Elio D'Anna, whose unorthodox approach to education is documented in his 2002 book, The School for Gods.

"This book is a map and an escape plan. Its aim is to show you the path followed by an ordinary man away from a hypnotic view of the world, and an accusing and plaintive interpretation of existence, to escape the rut of a programmed destiny," reads a blurb on D'Anna's personal website. "All that we see and touch, all that we perceive and all that we call 'reality,' is none other than the projection of a world invisible to our senses, a world of ideas and values that runs vertically to the plane of our existence: the world of the Being." 

ESE has had a presence in New York since the early 2000s, but, according to the Daily Beast report, “has been sued a dozen times in the US alone since 2006 for failing to make good on their debts.” What’s more, according to the Daily Beast, the New York State Education Department “had been trying for years to stop [the school] from operating without legal approval.”

The exact nature of the relationship between ESE and Legacy is unclear. The Trump Tower space that is also home to Legacy is still branded ESE and there are still ESE students on the premises. Nomellini, who was previously the chief executive of ESE, calls the two "sister" schools. At time of publication, New York was no longer listed on the roster of ESE's campuses found at Eselondon.ac.uk.

“What makes Legacy unique from ESE is the concept. Legacy Business School provides unique student services,” he said. “We are the school for students that are coming from entrepreneurial families. We are a very small school and we offer more than individual attention; we offer a lifestyle.”

According to Nomellini, Legacy offers programmes that “lead to” bachelor’s and master’s degrees “conferred” by the London Metropolitan University in the UK. “The partnership with London Metropolitan University is an on-going process; with their consent concerning advertising our future relationship, we have actively enrolled students as a result of our association with them,” Nomellini said. “A continual progress towards completion of our validation process is on-going. We are confident we will be fully validated in a timely matter.”

A spokesperson from LMU clarified the relationship via email: “London Metropolitan University entered into memoranda of understanding with a number of European School of Economics (ESE) companies to explore the possibility of future collaboration,” the person wrote. “These are not legally-binding relationships and the University has not entered into any formal partnerships with these ESE companies. No students at ESE are registered on London Met courses or have entitlement to London Metropolitan University degrees.”

Alongside two- and four-year programmes, which are unsure to result in recognised degrees, prospective Legacy students can also enrol in six-month certificate programmes. And yes, one of the school’s main areas of specialisation is fashion management. “Fashion is one of the most profitable businesses in the world,” Nomellini told BoF during a face-to-face meeting in July 2016. “The problem is that, even today, fashion is still seen as something not safe in the eyes of families for their kids to go to study.”

Nomellini wants Legacy to help change that notion. While the organisation has made headlines for its past affiliation with Jenner, Legacy’s other calling card is its ties to the Italian fashion industry. “[ESE] has always had a focus on aesthetic,” Nomellini said. “Italy gave us a strong connection with fashion companies, fashion designers and fashion leaders.”

In 2014, ESE hosted a ball in New York City celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was covered by American Vogue's website and attended by the likes of Valentino Garavani, Italian Vogue editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, Baz Luhrmann and Roberto Cavalli creative director Peter Dundas, who at the time was designing for Pucci. Donald and Melania Trump were also guests.

The connection to Trump is a point of pride. "[For Europeans], Trump Tower is one of the first attractions in New York City to see. More than World Trade Center," Nomellini claimed. The Republican presidential candidate's book — Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life — was displayed prominently on a coffee table in his office. "The Trump Tower is still an icon in Europe."

The association with Trump may be seen as a boon to Nomellini, an ESE graduate himself, but in addition to more traditional training and classwork, what Legacy aims to provide students — in particular, those who want to pursue fashion careers — is access to high-end brands. “The students write down the 10 companies they would like to work for and the school tries to place them in one of these 10 companies,” he said. “If we cannot do that, we will place them in a company with the same level, structure and size. If you want to work at Versace but it is not available, we will send you to Bvlgari. That is how it works.”

Choice #11 may not sound all that compelling, but ESE graduate Elif Sahin is happy with her internships at J.Mendel and Aeffe USA. Sahin practised law in her native Turkey before moving to New York in 2014 to enrol in Columbia University’s one-year American Language Program. After completing the Columbia course, she said she met Nomellini through a friend and enrolled at ESE, where her LinkedIn page says she received an MBA in international business this year. By the time BoF met with Sahin at the Legacy/ESE space in July, her internship at Aeffe had ended. “I am looking for a job right now in fashion,” she said, a sigh of hope in her delivery. “I will try and do my best.”

The problem is that, even today, fashion is still seen as something not safe in the eyes of families for their kids to go to study.

Interestingly, none of the students who attend ESE are US citizens or permanent residents. Nomellini says that Legacy has a “very minimum American student enrolment,” although he hopes that will change. “Legacy promotion started recently and we are aiming to offer our programs to American students that are seeking an enhanced and exclusive learning experience.”

However, neither organisation is approved by the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program to issue the Form I-20 documents that are required to apply for student visas (category F or M). “There are hundreds of institutions that issue visas and they do not have accreditation from anybody,” says David North, a fellow at the Washington, DC-based Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research organisation. “What you need to do, however, to issue visas, is be registered with the department of Homeland Security, and they are not. Even though the standards are very low, these folks haven’t gotten that far.”

When asked what sort of assistance Legacy provides its students to enter and reside in the US legally, Nomellini explained that foreign students enrolled at Legacy are typically enrolled at Rennert, an English-teaching school that is able to issue the I-20 document to students. “International students studying at Legacy are required to express a primary interest in mastering their English,” he said. “Students are required to study at Rennert International 20 hours a week… to maintain their [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System] status. After meeting the weekly requirements at Rennert International, students subsequently attend Legacy Business School.”

For foreign students who wish to live and work in America, Legacy also uses educational tracks in sexy industries — like fashion and entertainment — to woo students willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a piece of the dream.

But whether or not Legacy — which costs anywhere from $33,890 for a six-month certificate to $84,710 for a one-year master’s programme and more than $80,000 per year for a four-year bachelor’s programme — will actually provide students with an education that equals its price tag remains to be seen. (For comparison, one year of tuition for Harvard Business School’s class of 2018 is $63,675, while a master's of science in strategic design and management at Parsons costs $75,400 for the entire two-year programme.)

Yet it’s clear that ESE made a concerted effort to introduce students focussed on fashion or luxury management to the world in which they would hopefully find employment. Gene Detroyer, an ESE instructor since 2008, reminisced with Sahin about a trip to Bvlgari, where they said his class met with a top-level US executive. “It is very practical and pragmatic,” Detroyer said of ESE/Legacy. “I think they are very much prepared when they leave here.”

Arguably, networking opportunities like these are available at most reputable universities, particularly those such as ESSEC or HEC, which have formed partnerships with luxury conglomerates like LVMH and Kering. Other than a complimentary membership to concierge service Quintessentially and the chance to shake hands with Trump at the holiday party, what makes Legacy worth the hefty tuition fees?

Nomellini said that classes at Legacy will be small: often six to eight people, with an emphasis on one-to-one mentorship and instruction. “In so many schools, particularly in fashion, a good portion of students get their education in the back of the plane,” Detroyer said. “I think you can pick any student and ask them what is special about this and they will say, ‘It is the relationships the professors have with the students.’”

In July, Nomellini said that the State Department of Education’s Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision (BPSS), which oversees and monitors non-degree granting schools, was reviewing Legacy’s credentials. “We at Legacy are under BPSS and two years from now can move to OCUE [Office of College and University Evaluation] to ultimately become a New York State college,” he said. “But the advantage here is that you are studying for a British degree. The certificate programme will match and mirror a British degree.”

And indeed, Legacy is listed on the New York State Education Department’s website as a “candidate school” under Adult & Career Continuing Education Services — that is, non-degree programmes — with a review period beginning January 12, 2016, and ending January 12, 2017. “Candidacy status shall allow a school to operate unlicensed for an initial period of twelve months during the licensure application process, which may be extended to a maximum, non-renewable period of eighteen months, under certain conditions,” the site reads.

Whether Legacy is ever recognised as an authorised educational institution in the United States is perhaps beside the point. For a student like Sahin, ESE offered exactly what she wanted: an opportunity to live in New York and work in fashion. However, whether she's able to continue doing do is out of ESE's hands. As one former ESE student commented on review site College Times, "If you have a lot of money, free time and you are already well educated, consider this school as an interesting option to have some fun in life before starting to work (hard)."

To be sure, the practises of Legacy Business School seem likely to face future scrutiny. Nonetheless, Nomellini is upbeat. “Once the school is well established in New York, maybe in three to five years we can expand to Los Angeles,” he said. “If we grow in Trump Tower, we will need more space.”

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