Located in downtown Los Angeles, the Otis College of Art and Design has been turning out fashion designers since 1918. The non-profit institution was founded by General Harrison Gray Otis, the founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, who bequeathed his L.A. home to the city for "the advancement of the arts."
In the heart of the city’s garment district, students are mentored by a star-studded list of legendary designers. We spoke to the school’s Fashion Design Department Chair Rose Brantley about what it’s like to run a program in such a vibrant location.
(This interview was conducted via email & edited for length & clarity)
FS: Please tell us about the strengths of your program
OTIS: The opportunity to work with professional mentor designers such as Bob Mackie, Todd Oldham, Nicole Miller, Disney, Patagonia, Cirque Du Soleil, and many others. The opportunity to design in all different forms of apparel, including active wear, sportswear, evening wear, swimwear, dresses, children’s, menswear, lingerie, and costume design. And, the opportunity to work with faculty who are themselves experienced professionals from the fashion industry.
Our placement of fashion design graduates is enormous! A major focus of our department’s attention is placing students in internships and jobs within the industry. We have a consistent
track record of high placement of students in fashion design positions after graduation.
Otis Fashion Design is located in the heart of the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles, giving students constant exposure to every aspect of the garment industry in operation. Our location in the California Market Center means that students work and learn surrounded by textile and garment showrooms with seasonal fashion shows taking place throughout the year.
Design faculty to student ratio is 7:1. All of the core classes in our program have labs available. A strong, coast-to-coast, fashion design alumni network to support and connect current students to industry opportunities. We have a low turnover rate of faculty, resulting in a level of consistency and commitment that maintains the quality of work produced by our students because of their continuing commitment to high standards.
Otis Fashion prepares our students for working in the fashion industry by using the same seasonal timing as the industry does; we work on the 7-week turn cycle that students will experience throughout their careers as designers.
FS: What do students like best?
OTIS: The opportunity to work with professional mentor designers. The fact that faculty members engage with students one-on-one constantly, really taking time to nurture students’ talents. Faculty and staff are attentive to student needs and concerns, working collaboratively to ensure that these are addressed quickly and effectively.
Four years of intensive focus on model drawing and fashion illustration open up opportunities for graduates to move into other industries, such as film, as sketch artists.
Students have access to every kind of supplier they could wish for in the immediate campus area.
Students have an opportunity to join a very diverse campus, with students, faculty and staff from all over the country and the world sharing ideas.
FS: Describe any campus runway shows or other opportunities for your student designers to show off their talents
OTIS: The annual Otis Scholarship & Benefit Fashion Show raises over $1 million each year in scholarship money for the entire college. Members of the fashion industry, press and retailers come out each year in support of our program, where both Junior and Senior student work produced under the guidance of faculty and mentors is shown.
The SBS show is a visually exciting, highly theatrical production that is beyond any standard runway show.
After our annual show, Neiman-Marcus of Beverly Hills dresses all of their windows with a showcase of our students’ work. The Otis Jury Exhibition precedes the Scholarship and Benefit Show, and allows fashion industry professionals to preview our students’ work. Due to the quality of work produced, mentor designers have often requested additional exhibitions beyond the Otis Campus:
- Exhibition at the Westfield Shopping Mall of Todd Oldham project
- Multi-stop tour of “Considered Design” with Nike/Hurley
- Upcoming exhibition of 2013 Disney project at Pixar’s Monsters University premiere at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood.
Access to resources such as Western Costume, the largest costume house in the world.
FS: What are essential skills for incoming students?
OTIS: A strong knowledge of fashion or sewing techniques is beneficial, but not essential. What is essential is for incoming students to be passionate about fashion and to be “clothing curious” – having a fascination with people and their chosen attire. Each incoming class is given the instruction, resources, and projects to build technique and knowledge of fashion, but passion cannot be taught.
FS: How important are Internships?
OTIS: Internships are not mandatory, but they are strongly encouraged because we believe it is vitally important for our students. Internships allow students to be exposed to different types of businesses within the industry and it allows them to begin building their own relationships with professionals beyond the college. Our department is extremely focused on internship placement; this year, we placed the entire Junior class and the bulk of the Sophomores in internships. Of these, over ¾ were paid.
We hold an annual “Fashion Only” internship fair on our campus, where we have an equal number of companies attending as we do students.
Equally important, Otis Fashion holds an annual “Portfolio Day” for Senior students where designers from 25-30 apparel companies review students’ portfolios and provide critique and advice for their post-graduation job search.
FS: What are common career paths for your grads?
OTIS: Most all of our students become well-paid assistant designers after graduation. Our focus on fashion design helps our students to land positions at high-profile design/manufacturing companies.
FS: How Has Tech Changed Fashion?
OTIS: Illustrator and Photoshop expertise are now a requirement for an entry-level job in fashion design. Otis Fashion curriculum includes three years of Digital Design coursework.
Otis Design and Studio classes stress information literacy and effective researching to prepare students for their future careers. As technology has changed fashion in terms of the information available at our fingertips, students need to learn solid strategies for finding and identifying the right data quickly.
FS: In what other ways is Otis addresses 21st century changes in the fashion business?
OTIS: Designing creatively and sustainably will be a much sought-after skill set in future fashion designers and is emphasized in many design projects. Global resources are limited; monetary, environmental and human costs of outsourcing are becoming increasingly high. This year, Otis has launched the Sustainable Alliance with Nike, Quiksilver, Patagonia, Todd Oldham, Eddie Bauer, and Disney as partners. The Alliance’s mission is to educate the future fashion designers about creativity and sustainability today, so they may educate the consumers of tomorrow.
Check out more interviews at the Fashion-Schools.org Fashion School Interview Series.