Born: New York City, 10 January 1928. Education: Studied art, Syracuse University, New York, 1947-49, fashion design and illustration, Parsons School of Design, New York, 1949-50. Career: Designed for a series of New York ready-to-wear firms, circa 1950-56; designer for Darbury, 1956; partner/designer, Hedges of New York, 1957-59; designer, own label for Townley Frocks, 1958-64; designer, custom apparel, Henri Bendel department store, 1961; owner/designer, Donald Brooks, Inc., 1964-73; designed sweaters for Jane Irwill, 1965; shoes for Newton Elkin, 1966; furs for Coopchik-Forrest, Inc., 1967; furs for Bonwit Teller department store, 1969; robes and sleepwear for Maidenform, shoes for Palizzio; launched Boutique Donald Brooks line, 1969; designed drapery fabrics and bedlinens for Burlington, 1971; DB II line introduced, about 1980; Donald Brooks ready-to-wear, 1986; consultant for fabric and color design, Ann Taylor stores, from 1990; joined Tony awards nominating committee; also designed for theater, film, television, as well as custom clothing, from 1961. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1958, 1962, 1967, 1974; National Cotton award, 1962; New York Drama Critics award, 1963; Parsons Medal for Distinguished Achievement, 1974; Emmy award, 1982. Address: c/o Parson's School of Design, 66 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10011, U.S.A.
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Staying power characterized Donald Brooks every bit as much as the simply cut, easy fitting dresses in distinctive fabrics for which he is best known. A summer job in the advertising and display department at Lord & Taylor led him into ready-to-wear, first as a sketch artist and subsequently as designer for a series of undistinguished manufacturers. After a stint as designer at Darbury and Hedges of New York, where his work was admired by the fashion press, Brooks moved to Townley Frocks as successor to Claire McCardell. There, Brooks was given his own label as well as the chance to develop his own prize-winning printed fabrics.
By the mid-1960s, Brooks was one of the few American designers to have financial control of his own business. From that base he diversified along the usual lines, designing sweaters, shoes, swimsuits, furnishing fabrics, and other items under a multitude of licensing agreements. At the same time he built a secure base for his custom-made clothes that stood him in good stead throughout the recession years of the 1970s and 1980s. Brooks also developed a parallel career, interpreting the contemporary scene for television, film, and the theater, beginning in 1961. His many stage credits include the musical No Strings, which earned him a New York Drama Critics award in 1963, and a nomination for the Antoinette Perry, or Tony award. For his film design Brooks has received four Oscar nominations. The parallel careers often supported one another, as when Brooks' clothes for the film Star, set in the 1920s and 1930s, provided the direction for his 1968 ready-to-wear collection.
Brooks' clothes were known for their clean lines, often surprising colors, and for their distinctive fabrics, most of which he himself designed. There is a boldness about a Brooks design that makes an impact and makes his contemporary dresses for the stage particularly successful. The Parsons Medal for Distinguished Achievement has been awarded less than half a dozen times in almost as many decades. Brooks received it in 1974, to join a roster that singled out Adrian, Norman Norell, and Claire McCardell as especially noteworthy American designers.
In the 1990s Brooks enjoyed a myriad of activities related to the many facets of fashion design. He had returned to the theatre as one of the annual Tony awards nominating committee; mentored students at the Parsons School of Design, and participated in the annual Parsons Fashion Critics awards; and designed for the Theater for the New City's Annual Village Halloween Costume Ball.