Looks from the Otis Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show
In the streets of famous Downtown Los Angeles, every corner thrives and prospers with fashion. As sophomores, we have finally arrived at our home filled with fabrics and sewing machines! Since this is our first and last year at the Otis fashion campus we’ve been exposed to pros and cons of our experience here. One thing we noticed during Foundation was plenty of students complaining about their upcoming majors and how the programs have major issues (pun intended). We heard plenty of this about the Fashion Design Department in particular. Students said, “they only teach you how to work for somebody, not for yourself,” and “just go into fine art.” Unfortunately, we weren't going to be switching our majors to fine art. I, Brittany, remember coming to this school because I knew it had world class… classes in fashion, and amazing opportunities for its students along the way. But of course, nothing is ever perfect for everyone. We’ve decided we would talk to several fashion students of all levels, sophomores, seniors, and of course, the head of the department, Rosemary Brantley.
A studio at the Otis Fashion campus in Downtown Los Angeles

We wanted to, first, find out what incoming sophomores who might not know everything about the fashion program think so far and their opinions on the fashion department as a whole. Natalie Fonseca says that she, “expected to learn more insight about the fashion industry, how to work with fashion professionals, and get the training [she] need[s] to enhance [her] skills.” Otis put it’s sophomores through a set of rigorous Fashion foundation classes and once the students reach junior and senior levels they begin to work in Otis’ mentor-ship program where, as a group, they are given a set list of criteria to follow then are asked to design garments for whoever the mentor is.

The biggest concern we have noticed as new fashion students are several of our peers claiming the Otis Fashion Department lacks the freedom of creativity. Brittney Sabet tells us that, “starting as a sophomore [she does] feel like Otis Fashion does lack the opportunity to be creative.” and Serena Tang tells us that, “all of the skills will be really helpful to work as an assistant designer but not necessarily as the head designer.” This statement is something that is misinterpreted time and time again at Otis. Students in this program are thoroughly prepared for the fashion industry when they eventually graduate and are in need of assistant designer positions. It is very rare that a graduate of any fashion design program would go straight into designing his or her own line.

Otis Sketch selection of Children's Swimwear
Senior Heather Dittler, a past FIDM graduate, applied to Otis having graduated from FIDM with her degree in fashion knitwear design and was looking for a way to continue her studies in fashion design. She says, “Otis offered (me) a more in depth education of working with higher end companies.” Heather’s class has been resilient and only a small amount of students didn’t continue in the fashion program beyond their first year. Of those who didn’t continue in the program, she says, “sometimes it’s hard when you’re creative and you want to go to Otis and you come out of Foundation, torn between two majors.” When asking about if Otis fashion is a limiting major, she posed a disclaimer and said, “[she] knows it’s a controversial subject” and “everyone says [she’s] such an optimist.” Then she continues on and says, “it’s really different depending on who you ask, but I think the program is just very structured because of the mentor-ship program.” Much of the mentor-ships are really just about being creative within a certain framework. She says much of other fashion programs have their students design based off of only his/her own aesthetic, and with Otis you still have the chance to do that, but within certain restraints set forth by mentors and professors. This method of teaching, to me, seems effective because of the fact that very few graduates will design based off of their own aesthetics in their entry level positions. Plus, in the future when a graduate has gotten their bearings in the fashion industry it’s always easier to go back and work on a total personal aesthetic when the opportunity presents itself.

Rosemary poses for the 30th annual
Otis Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show
Rosemary Brantley has been the Chairperson of the Otis Fashion Department for 36 years, and she has heard it all. For over 36 years, the most common thing brought up to Brantley has been learning to manage time while at Otis. She says that, “the hardest parts about being a fashion designer here is about, “how can I get all this work done?” She urges students to let go of perfectionism, and learn to be able to meet deadlines while being creative. She tells us that being creative on deadline is one of the hardest things to learn and ultimately Otis fashion students conquer it. When asked about allowing students creativity she says, “when sophomores come here, they have to learn basic skills. There’s a lot of learning just how to sew and use a machine, then getting more dynamic poses in model drawing.” Coming from sophomore year, where students have learned all the basics of design and construction, into Junior year, is a large step. Brantley says on the first day on Junior year the students will walk right into their first class meetings with their mentors. Then they’re on their own. From the very beginning students will be put into teams and begin designing within a framework of direction. The individual’s personality will still be apparent because everyone’s designs will always reflect themselves no matter what. She says that “students will be overcome with the creativity they have to use.”

I can see this as being especially true when the new fashion design major with costume design emphasis track is put into play at Otis next year. Brantley says what’s great about this field is that, “there are concept artists in this world that understand how to create amazing characters, but they don’t know how to construct it.” The fashion design students will be taught to be able to do both. Rosemary Brantley’s favorite part about working at Otis is its students. She points to one of several picture frames on the wall behind her. This is a photo from her first graduating class at Otis. She says it’s most gratifying seeing a bunch of student who come in knowing nothing then over just a few years they acquire all these skills and are able to produce amazing works. At graduation she was so taken aback by the amount that they had achieved and were able to do that she let out tears of joy from the audience.

Evening wear designed by Otis fashion students
mentored by Bob Mackie
After having heard primary concerns from our fellow classmates and what they think they could learn more of, Heather Dittler and Rosemary Brantley have shed light on the upper class levels that the fashion sophomores have to look forward to. There’s a lot that a sophomore student doesn’t know about the entire fashion program and job placement, so we understand that it can be an unsettling idea that sophomore year is our real first impression of working in this department. It’s important for students to know that right now we are learning skills that so many other schools aren't teaching and the mentor-ship program is such a valuable part of this department. The skills we are learning are really going to prepare us for the real world of newly graduated fashion students and even when we are working in our entry level assistant designer jobs, we will still be learning new skills and new ways to be creative. Though some students believe Otis fashion doesn't allow individual creativity, there is more than enough time to work on that on one's own time, but these experiences Otis Fashion is giving its students are truly indispensable.

Final garments in the Otis Scholarship Benefit Show 2015
mentored by Trina Turk and Bob Mackie
 - Brittany -


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