At the top of the California Market Center is the heart of Downtown’s Los Angeles Fashion District. There the Otis College of Art and Design fashion walls are adorned with sketches, ideas and glass windows that look through young designers hard at work. It runs like a seamless engine. At its core is Founding Chair Rose Brantley, a fashion’s pioneer beating tirelessly in a world of and by her own design.
Power walking through the Otis halls in high velvet black pumps paired with a Carolina Herrera inspired white blouse, Rose embodies fashion like an icon in her own right. From modeling as a young woman in Texas, to a fashion design career for Europe’s grandest brands, today these halls have become her runway in an industry and city that she has encouraged to redefine itself. Thirty-five years ago Otis had Rose, three teachers and empty classes waiting for 17 eager students to take on a new fashion challenge and design in the world’s most “famous” city, Los Angeles.
“There wasn’t any reason for me to take this job at all. I had loads of fashion design clients and was traveling. When Otis asked me to do this, I said, ‘I don’t know anything about education, I can’t do that,’” says Rose. “I told them no forever. ‘Why are you asking me this?’”
Sometimes faith has a way to set up our future early on. Growing up in an orphanage environment through her parents’ work, Rose tutored the Boys Ranch and Boys Will in Texas. This work was inspired by a personal struggle, especially that of her father who at age 13 was left orphan with 11 brothers in his care during the Great Depression. “I looked back very early on at Otis and went, ‘wow!’ It’s not this place the attraction all these years, it isn’t really fashion, it’s people,” says Rose.
Rose’s realm of fashion is distinct indeed. She’s a minimalist in a grand way. Not a fan of decoration, she creates platforms of design through development. When California was a junior market in the 1980’s, Rose gave it hope and initiative. Her source was young design students, eager just like she was to discover the glam and freedom of the golden state. This year Otis was recognized as the number one fashion school in the nation. “If Otis wasn’t going to be the best school that there absolutely was, then there was no point in me doing it,” says Rose, her eyes sparkling incisively just like they did almost four decades ago.
Next she gathered the best fashion design mentors and brands in the United States: Nike, Bob Mackie, Neiman Marcus and the most rewarding part, successful former students. Synonymous with the Otis elevators brand, at first many thought Rose represented the elevator company. Interestingly that’s exactly what years later her work reached to accomplish. Elevate Otis to match the kind of education she had received at Parsons. “Imagine me coming from Irving, Texas, my parents had no money besides the first semester tuition, and all of a sudden I’m in a classroom with Ralph Lauren.”
The image of her mother crying before boarding the Dallas, Texas plane to New York in 1970 today replays as a confirmation of her first plunge into a world that at the time she had only heard about. ‘I know you’ll never really come home again,’ her mother said. “She was right. I never really did come home in that kind of a way again,” says Rose.
What followed was a miracle happening every 6 months. Young ambitious Rose completed her education on scholarship, won Student of the Year Award and a week after prepared into her first designer job for Jaegar, Britain’s largest fashion manufacturer. Her creative resource? To design their American collection. “I had so many people giving me cards the night of our senior show, that I went home to my little place, turned my borrowed evening bag upside down and watched the cards fall out,” says Rose.
A whirlwind of fashion tours throughout New York, Paris and London presented many successful opportunities, but Rose was already excited for Los Angeles. The city was beaming as the next hot spot in fashion. Not long ago Nike walked in one of their classes with a roll of silver “fabric.” The designer held a chip of fabric and asked the students to take a picture. That tiny fabric flashed back so powerfully that you could barely see the hand holding it. “Ground glass is the newest innovation on earth developed by NASA for reflection,” says Rose. “In the show you will see clothes that light up that you can’t believe it.” Not to mention that her students are already using a laser cutter and Bemis, a no-sew technology.
“The lighting is different here,” says Rose. “Los Angeles is one of the most interesting places to be a fashion designer. LA is such a rule breaking kind of place of independence.”
The Otis Benefit Scholarship Fashion show at the Beverly Hilton gathers every year sponsors and admirers of the student designer work. A problem solving hybrid in sync with endless creativity, this year’s collections presented themes of Shirley Temple’s vintage apparel, the green Metro challenge to tackle an environmental imbalance and artist Henri de Toulouse-Latrec Moulin Rouge, where Bob Mackie’s reminiscent Judy Garland evening-wear elegance still holds true Hollywood’s inspiration. “It’s Rose’s night at the Hilton,” says Mackie.
Rose’s reply is simple. “Looking back I feel that my whole life led me exactly to this place.”
After the show she walks on stage. Between tears of joy and celebration she captures her students’ attention. Beautiful Rose takes the runway walk, reminiscent of early modeling years, bold goals, love of fashion and people. Their eyes follow her young tall figure with respect and love. For a second her student’s hearts beat as one. They now understand the legacy in which she had invested an entire lifetime. It’s impossible to believe that Rose is retiring. With urgency in her speech she tells me for how long the Staples (Rosemary’s Brantley Staples) brand has been waiting for her to return as a full-time designer.
Photography Credits by OTIS COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN and DIAMONDS MIRROR & Photographers BOB JIMENEZ, TIM VECHIK and CHRISTIAN ALVAREZ – Starring CHAIR OF FASHION DESIGN, ROSEMARY BRANTLEY and OTIS FASHION DESIGN STUDENTS CLASS OF 2016 mentors BOB MACKIE, NANETTE LEPORE, TODD OLDHAM, JBRAND, JOIE, PRARIE UNDERGROUND, PERRY ELLIS, LUCKY BRAND, UNIQLO, AMUSE SOCIETY, MICHI, BLU PONY VINTAGE, and Otis President BRUCE W. FERGUSON