Influential Images: Donald Brooks
October 21, 2011 § 2 Comments
Yesterday, designer Donald Brooks (1928-2005) was inducted into the Fashion Walk of Fame on Seventh Avenue. In fashion history, Brooks hasn’t been quite as lauded as the other two of the “Three B’s” of fashion, Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene, so it was nice to see him get the industry’s recognition and respect. I myself have always loved the look of Brooks’ work in the 1960s and 70s; glamourous, clean-lined, and so American in it’s attitude. His clothes were the kind I wish I saw more of on today’s runways and in stores.
Donald Brooks was born in 1928 in New Haven, CT as Donald Marc Blumberg, and grew up in Manhattan. His passion for theater started at the Yale School of Drama, which he attended after graduating from Syracuse University. He went on to study at FIT and at Parsons, before becoming a window designer for Lord and Taylor. His window work was noticed by the store’s president at the time, Dorothy Shaver (check out the link, she had a pretty incredible life story herself). Shaver recruited Brooks to design a private label collection for Lord and Taylor. In 1958, Brooks went to work for Townley Frocks, the same manufacturer that employed Claire McCardell. Below is a Brooks-designed Townley Frocks dress that Jackie Kennedy wore on her trip to India.
In 1965, Brooks went out on his own, and began designing an eponymously named collection, backed by Seventh Avenue financier Ben Shaw (who also funded Oscar de la Renta and Halston’s businesses, among many others). His collection consisted of fashionable sportswear with simple silhouettes, elongating lines, and bold but tasteful prints.
But the draw of the stage and screen were so great to Mr. Brooks that he ultimately spent much of his career in costume design. His work on Broadway included Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and Promises, Promises, as well as No Strings, starring Diahann Carroll, a play for which he received a Tony Award Nomination. For TV, he is best known for his costumes for The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and for the TV movie, The Letter, starring Lee Remnick, which he earned an Emmy Award for. Brooks went on to become a three-time nominee for an Academy Award for Costume Design for the films Star!, Darling Lili and The Cardinal.
Brooks stage work did not prevent him from continuing success in the fashion industry. He won three Coty Awards, as well as the Parsons’ Medal of Distinction. In 2003, he was the subject of a retrospective exhibit at FIT. Here are a few more images from his line, from the 1970s. They still feel really modern to me. I’m going to take a visit to his Fashion Walk of Fame plaque soon.
Donald Brooks, 77, Designer of Stage and Screen Fashion, Dies at 77 (Wilson, NY Times, 8/3/2005)