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Donald Brooks papers

Identifier: KA-0006-01


Donald Brooks (1928-2005) was a prominent American fashion designer who, in addition to creating ready-to-wear collections and custom apparel, designed costumes for film, television, and theater. He taught at Parsons School of Design for approximately forty years. The collection includes photographs, publicity materials, and original fashion and costume design sketches.


  • 1957 - 2003



9.2 Cubic Feet (7 boxes, 6 oversize boxes, 6 rolled drawings)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents of Collection

The Donald Brooks papers include clippings, photographs, tear sheets, sketches (original pencil and watercolor sketches, and reproductions), and ephemera, such as souvenir books, relating to Brooks' work as a fashion and costume designer. The bulk of the materials represent Brooks' costume design career, encompassing film, television, and the stage, and spanning the 1960s through the 1980s. It should be noted that the collection represents a fraction of Brooks' costume design work. Most productions are represented here by 1-8 sketches, where Brooks was often responsible for hundreds of designs for a single production. Included here are costumes representing nine motion picture productions, five television programs, and 23 theatrical productions. The collection does not include materials from every production for which Brooks served as costume designer. While all film productions are represented, costume designs for approximately four television productions and six theatrical productions are absent.

The papers are of a professional nature and contain no personal materials. Professional photographs feature Brooks at fashion shows and celebrity events. There are few sketches from Brooks's fashion design career, which is primarily represented through clippings, tear sheets, and other publicity-related printed materials. Brooks' fashion design sketches are notable for featuring women of color.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact:

Biographical note

Donald Brooks was born in 1928 and raised in Cheshire, Connecticut. Prior to enrolling at Parsons School of Design in 1949, he studied fine arts at Syracuse University and at the Yale School School of Drama. In 1974, he received a Parsons Medal for distinguished achievement and an honorary doctorate in 1985.

Following his education at Parsons, Brooks worked as a window dresser for Lord & Taylor, where Dorothy Shaver encouraged him in his fashion design career. In 1958, following the death of Claire McCardell (KA.0082), Brooks began designing for Townley Frocks. He launched his own label in 1965. Brooks became known for designing bold and colorful fabrics for his collections. He was a three-time Coty American Fashion Critics' Award recipient and a two-time National Cotton Award winner. He was a founding member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, along with Norman Norell (KA.0035), whom Brooks considered a primary inspiration and influence. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Brooks began closing his fashion design business to concentrate on teaching and philanthropic work.

Brooks began pursuing his interest in costume design during the 1960s. Over the next three decades, he designed extensively for film, television, and the stage. Many of the productions Brooks worked on involved historically-inspired costumes, which required extensive research. His designs for The Cardinal (1963), Star! (1968), and Darling Lili (1970) earned him Oscar nominations. His costumes for Diahann Carroll in No Strings, his first Broadway production, received the New York Drama Critics award for Best Costume Design in 1963. Brooks received an Emmy for Costume Design in recognition of his costumes for Lee Remick in The Letter (1982). Other actresses costumed by Brooks include Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Mia Farrow, Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli, Jane Powell, Shelly Winters, and Joanne Woodward. In 1992, he was elected to the Tony Awards Nominating Committee.

Brooks was a visiting lecturer-critic at Parsons School of Design for forty years. Two years prior to his death in 2005, Parsons sponsored an exhibition centered around his fashion design career. An online component to the exhibition can be accessed at:

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 3 series: 1. Biographical materials, 1959-2003; 2. Costume design, 1959-1987; 3. Fashion design, 1960s-1990s

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Gerald H. Blum, 2008. A second set of fashion design drawings and reproductions of costume design drawings for Star! (1968) were transferred to the Archives by the Parsons' School of Fashion in 2013. Additional drawings for the theatrical production of Good News were incorporated into the collection in 2018.

Related Materials

Documentation of Donald Brooks's role as instructor and mentor to young designers will be found in the New School Archives' Parsons School of Design Fashion Design Department records (pre-2008 accessions) (PC.02.02.01), Student work series. The Fashion Design Department records contain examples of student work critiqued by Brooks as well as sketches of apparel designed by students for his course, Concepts in Fashion Design. Photographs and slides of Brooks teaching at Parsons will be found in the Parsons School of Design photograph collection (pre-2008 accessions) (PC.04.01.01) in the New School Archives.

Publicity for Donald Brooks's 1968 ready-to-wear collection, inspired by the film Star!, is found in the Saks Fifth Avenue fashion publicity records (KA.0018).

A group portrait of young fashion designers, including Donald Brooks, will be found in the John Weitz papers (KA.0047).

Processing Information

Materials have sustained water damage, resulting in discoloration of some sketches.

Guide to the Donald Brooks papers
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2018: Wendy Scheir incorporated an accretion of drawings for Good News, and Agnes Szanyi re-numbered folders accordingly