On Teaching: Interview with Marian O’Rourke-Kaplan

I will always remember the first day I met Marian O’Rourke Kaplan, Associate Professor at the University of North Texas in the Fashion Design Program. It was the first day of the Draping course and  I had never draped before, so I was unsure what this course would entail. The room was filling up with students and people began chatting with each other. Then, in walks Mrs. O’Rourke-Kaplan clutching the newest edition of Vogue magazine with her T.A. following closely behind her. Mrs. O’Rourke-Kaplan sets the magazine on the table and begins flipping pages. The room goes silent. We are all looking at her, wondering what is she going to do. She tears out two pages and hold them up. “Which design do you prefer?” she asks the class. “Raise your hand if it’s the Donna Karan dress.” A few hands went up. “Raise your hands for the Armani jacket,” more hands went up, including mine. She pinned the winning Armani jacket magazine page on the mannequin; her T.A. handed her a pincushion, scissors, and some muslin; she swiftly began tearing fabric and pinning it to the mannequin. She was slicing through the muslin with her scissors and fabric was falling on the floor in irregular shapes. We were all quietly mesmerized watching her every move. After about ten minutes she put her supplies down and announced, “You will be able to do this at the end of the semester.” We all stared in amazement at how she draped an exact replica of the Armani jacket right before our eyes.

Marian O'Rourke-Kaplan image from MOKdesign.com

Marian O’Rourke-Kaplan image from MOKdesign.com

The first day I taught my own Draping class, I thought about Mrs. O’Rourke-Kaplan. She had so much confidence and that instilled confidence in me as a student. She had draped an Armani jacket in front of us and it looked just like the photograph. I was impressed and so excited to return to the next class so that I could learn this skill. If you are wondering if I did the same demonstration on my first day of my Draping class, the answer is no. But I tell my students this story every semester as I slowly and carefully demonstrate draping techniques. I have kept in contact with Mrs. O’Rourke-Kaplan over the years as I consider her a mentor. I find her to be a kind, generous, and a creative teacher. When I started teaching I often thought about what she did in the classroom as a guide to how I wanted to teach. She has also self published Pattern Essentials: A Student Handbook, that I am currently using in my program, filled with information on notching, measurements used in standard pattern making, among other information. I recently asked her for an interview to share her career as a fashion design teacher.  

How did you get your first adjunct teaching job?

I was working in [the] industry and the designer at Jay Jacks was teaching a draping course at El Centro Community College,  he was wanting to step out and asked if I was interested, I went and interviewed and my Wednesday nights each long term were spent teaching draping for the next 13 years.  That is where I got the bug to teach.

What was the most surprising thing you learned your first semester teaching?

Coming from [the] industry there were many terms and phrases that were embedded in my vocabulary, and I used them assuming the students understood…that is what I learned, never assume you are understood, explain multiple ways till the students grasp the concepts.

What was the most challenging thing you experienced as a teacher?

Staying patient with the students and not reacting to seemingly inane questions when in reality if one asked the question there are probably several others who had the same questions but were afraid to ask.

Can you tell me how you moved from an adjunct to the position you have now?

I taught full time at a proprietary school for three years and grew weary of the bottom line mentality.  I went back to get my MBA degree so I could diversify my qualifications and ideally start a new career path.  When all was said and done I missed the fashion business and went back to [the] industry, first with Jay Jacks and onward in the Dallas market.  It was over these years that I did the adjunct work.

Do you have any advice for adjunct teachers who hope to move up in the university?

The more teaching experience you can get the better your chances are. Industry experience will set you apart from the other candidates; it is invaluable when you work with students to be able to cite experiences in the real world, making it relevant to the career path they are training for. Teaching a class here or there while you are working in the industry is an excellent way to build your CV and prepare for a university position. They do require an advanced degree in the field or, as in my case, an advanced degree and an appreciable number of years’ experience in the field to balance it out. My MBA coupled with 20+ years’ experience in the field made me an excellent candidate. There are MFA, MA and MS degrees in apparel offered around the country, but PhD programs are rare.

I would love to hear from the readers about your favorite teacher that inspired you to teach. I’m also interested in your most memorable experiences in the classroom. Please share your story in the comments below.

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  • Olga Mitterfellner April 14, 2014 01.47 am

    This article has amazed me! Or rather: The teaching approach of Marian O’Rourke-Kaplan has amazed me! I only know of an advaced pattern-making class at Central St Martins, where students are asked to pick out a magazine image of a complicated garment and recreate the full pattern. Her skills must be amazing.

    In my experience as a fashion teacher I can recall a summer program at Academie de Paris, part of the Oxbridge Academic Program. My students were very keen to learn about fashion but had no experience whatsoever. For the introductory basic draping class, I also put a dummy in front of the class, put scissors and pins next to it and asked the 20 students to come up in pairs, working on the shapeless fabric for 5 minutes at each time. They had to creatively cut and pin the fabric any way they liked. When everyone was through, we had a very creative and interesting garment on the dummy! This way, I wanted to show the students that draping is a creative thinking process, very free and flexible, and possible to do for everyone!

    However, I doubt that even my own draping skills are not that advanced to recreate an Armani jacket from scratch. Hats off to your former tutor!

  • vicTORIa April 17, 2014 08.44 am

    What an amazing article! I too was a student of Marian’s and she definitely changed my life. I moved to NYC after getting my BFA and have had wonderful experiences here. I made it as far as being a Production Patternmaker for Oscar de la Renta and couldn’t have done it without the lessons I learned from Marian. One day, I hope to go back to school and get my MFA so I can teach and inspire students the way Marian has inspired me.


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