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CAMPUS & CAREER GUIDE : Otis College Is Runway to Fashion Fame

Clothes: L.A. campus ranks as premier design school on West Coast. Nearly all graduates get industry jobs.


You want to be a lawyer? Go to Harvard Law School. You want to play first violin at La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy? Get accepted to Juilliard. You want to be a matador? Start hanging out at the Maestranza bullring in Seville.

And if you want to be a fashion designer, send your portfolio to the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

There are larger fashion schools, and certainly schools located in much fancier digs than the sixth-floor space where Otis classes meet, across the street from one of the most drug-infested parks in the city.

But if you want to see the clothes you have created displayed in a Fifth Avenue or Wilshire Boulevard window, fashion experts consider Otis a ticket to the big time.

Across the street from MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles, the 16-year-old Otis fashion department--the crown jewel of Otis College--has established itself as the premier fashion school on the West Coast. Only its former affiliate, Parson's in New York, is regarded so highly.

"Otis is recognized in the industry as perhaps the best fashion school in the country," said Tom Voltin, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. "We are very proud each year to devote some of our Wilshire windows to clothes created by Otis students."

The school's fashion department places almost 100% of its graduates in fashion-related jobs, said Chairwoman Rosemary Brantley.

Brantley began her fashion career as a 17-year-old model in Dallas. "I was standing on a box dancing in hot pants for buyers," she recalls.

After a few years on runways, Brantley became more interested in designing clothes than modeling them, so she enrolled at Parson's School of Design in New York City. After graduating in 1973, she went on to design clothes that were sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin, Bullocks and Nordstrom. In 1980, when Parsons teamed with up Otis to develop a fashion design program, Brantley was selected to head the department.

Now, she said, "I try to pass on to my kids if they work really hard, if they have the passion, they can make anything of themselves."

About 150 students attend full-time classes in the fashion program, which costs about $7,000 a year. The school has an additional 600 attending classes in its communication arts (graphic design, interior design and illustration), environmental arts (interior design, furniture design, building design, landscape design and set design) and fine arts (ceramics, painting and photography) departments. And an additional 1,000 participate in evening and weekend courses.

Fashion school alumni have gone on to work with respected firms such as Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Mossimo, Carol Little, Ann Taylor, Adrienne Vittadini, Guess?, Diane Von Furstenberg and St. John Knits.

To get a solid background, first-year students go through an art foundation course, where they study art history, design and drawing, then progress to designing clothes for moderate-priced markets. In their senior year, they focus on high fashion and spend much of their time on a special project intended to showcase their technical skills and creativity.

This year, the senior project is to design a dress that a famous female movie star of the past might have worn to the premiere of a movie.

Directing the design students is David Le Vey, a former Otis student who now is an assistant costume film designer and has worked on films such as "Heat," "Hook" and "Legends of the Fall."

"This is a project that I would have killed for," said Le Vey, a lifelong movie lover.

The project not only allows students to demonstrate creative flair, but requires them to do extensive research on fashion trends and to study the style of their chosen actress, to make their dresses as authentic as possible.

Senior Hang Vo is spending $3,000 to make "the ultimate flapper dress" for 1920s-era screen star Clara Bow.

And senior Diane Moya, 26, from Bogata, Colombia, is using Ava Gardner as her model for a red silk and satin gown, with a red matador-style jacket and long, flowing skirt.

Their creations will be unveiled at an April 20 fashion show at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

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