2016 Newsmakers: Rosemary Brantley Leaves Otis as Fashion Department Exits DTLA

After 36 years as the founding fashion chair of the Otis College of Art and Design, Rosemary Brantley stepped down from the fashion program she founded in 1980. Brantley will remain the principal designer and business partner in her own women’s clothing label, Staples, which launched the same year she took over the fashion design department. This is a big year for Otis’ fashion department, which moved to the art school’s main campus in Westchester, near Los Angeles International Airport, on LA’s Westside, from its longtime home at the California Market Center.

The move will join the fashion design department with the rest of Otis’ students in a new four-story building. With the move, the fashion design students will also now be able to live in a dorm on campus. The move to Westchester is the third move for Otis’ fashion department. When Brantley launched the program, the school—then called Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design—was located near MacArthur Park, a few miles away from downtown Los Angeles. At the time, the school was operating as a partnership between theParsons School of Design in New York, where Brantley studied design, and the Otis Art Institute, which was founded in 1918 by Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis. By 1997, the growing art school had moved to Westchester, but Brantley and the fashion department moved to the California Market Center, then called the California Mart, into a second-floor space renovated to house the department.

For nearly 20 years, the space housed 24 classrooms, a library and a fitting studio where students honed their craft under the mentorship of an international coterie of designers—including Bob Mackie, Isabel Toledo and Todd Oldham—as well as designers from major clothing companies such as J Brand, Quiksilver, Lucky Brand, Perry Ellis, Joie and Lane Bryant. The program’s alumni include California womenswear designers Cynthia Vincent and Eduardo Lucero and swimwear designers Rod Beattie and Red Carter, and its graduates have gone on to work for prominent fashion brands such as Michael Kors, John Varvatos, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Polo Ralph Lauren and DKNY.

Jill Higashi Zeleznik, who previously served as the fashion department’s assistant chair, has taken over as acting chair in Brantley’s place. A global search for Brantley’s replacement is underway.

Before founding the fashion program at Otis, Brantley had worked as a fashion designer for companies such as Jaeger and Kasper for Joan Leslie. The Texas native got her start as a model in Dallas, a job that took her from an early gig go-go dancing on a runway at the Dallas Market Center to walking in runway shows for high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Sanger-Harris. Among the designers Brantley modeled for was Stan Herman, who went on to become president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and one of the founders of New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park. Herman encouraged Brantley to follow her dreams of designing fashion, helping to get her into the Parsons School of Design, where he also taught.

After relocating to Los Angeles with her husband, Peter Christian, Brantley was approached by a former Parsons mentor, Ann Keagy, who encouraged Brantley to found a fashion design program at the newly merged Otis Parsons.