Otis Fashion Design School Saying Goodbye to Downtown LA

After some 20 years of holding classes at the California Market Center, the fashion design department of the Otis College of Art and Design is leaving the large showroom building in the heart of the LA Fashion District and moving to Otis’ main campus near the Los Angeles International Airport.

Some 145 students and 50 faculty members will be packing up their art supplies, mannequins, fashion archives and office equipment to transfer them to a new academic building being constructed at the main campus on Lincoln Boulevard just north of the airport.

The move will take place July 1, leaving 38,000 square feet of vacant space that encompasses 24 classrooms, a library and a fitting studio on the second floor of the CMC building.

“The school’s administration is into campus consolidation, and they want the students to have access to all the student services within walking distance,” said Rosemary Brantley, the fashion design department’s founding chair, who has been with the college for 36 years.

Before the final decision to move, the college’s administrators were trying to reach an agreement with the CMC owners, Jamison Services Inc., to occupy a smaller space on the building’s third floor to reduce the fashion design school’s rent. But after months of negotiations, an agreement wasn’t reached, Brantley said.

Having a fashion design school in the heart of the LA Fashion District has been filled with learning opportunities. “The faculty and students share the same feeling that they will miss the proximity to fabrics, notions and trims as well as having so many mentors who are just around the corner,” Brantley said. “We are going to miss the students feeling the seasons of the business during the various fashion markets and having all the alumni that stop in. I get as many as 25 alumni during every textile show.”

The fashion department will be moving into a brand-new four-story building being built on the Otis campus, located in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles. The building has two wings—one for a dormitory and another for classes and student services. They will be joined by a 300-seat forum on the ground floor.

“The building is wide open and has flexible space,” Brantley said, putting a positive approach to the move.

But it will leave a big creative hole in the Fashion District, where many of Otis’s students interned with designers and manufacturers.

“I don’t know anybody who is happy about it,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, a trade group made up of hundreds of clothing manufacturers, textile producers, financing resources and lawyers. Metchek, a former fashion designer who once owned her own clothing company, has taught several classes at Otis’ downtown LA campus. “It makes no sense [to move] other than not to have to pay more rent,” she said.

Metchek wrote a letter to the college’s administrators urging them to reconsider keeping the school in its current location, but that didn’t help.

One disadvantage of the move is that many of the current fashion design students live in the downtown Los Angeles area and don’t have cars.

Students were told in April that next year’s classes will only be at the Westchester campus. Some students were very disappointed, and others had mixed feelings. “I think it is good in a way for the students to be all together on the same campus,” said Serena Tang, a sophomore at the school. “But it will be inconvenient for finding fabrics and things we want to buy for our projects.”

Hailey Lee, another sophomore, felt a unified campus would benefit fashion students in a creative way. “We can all look at works of art from other departments, such as those in the fine arts department, and get ideas,” she said.

Both Lee and Tang live in the downtown area but will be moving to be closer to the Westchester campus when classes start there.

It is unclear what the California Market Center will be doing with the large empty space left by the school. Jaime Lee, the CMC’s president, did not return phone calls or emails seeking a comment by press time.

The Otis fashion design department is well-known for its emphasis on design and the art of fashion rather than merchandising, technology or product development, which are taught at other local fashion design schools.

It is also renowned for the number of well-known and well-connected fashion designers who volunteer to mentor classes of fashion students. Bob Mackie, famous for his glitzy costumes designed for singers and other entertainers, is a regular mentor at the school as well as Los Angeles designer Trina Turk and swimwear designers Red Carter and Rod Beattie.

This will be the third move for the fashion department. When Brantley, a graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, launched the department, Otis was located near MacArthur Park, a few miles away from downtown Los Angeles in an older neighborhood, where the school was founded in 1918 by Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis. It was called the Otis Art Institute.

By 1997, the growing art school moved to Westchester and into an old IBM research facility that had been constructed in 1964. However, Brantley and the fashion department’s associate chair, Jack Handford, convinced the school’s administrators to transfer the fashion department to the California Market Center, then called the California Mart. That was when Corky Newman, the building’s chief executive, reconfigured the second-floor space to house the fashion design department.