CHICAGO — Marsha Brenner, a jewelry designer and longtime executive director of the Apparel Industry Board Inc., passed away Sunday evening on her 80th birthday.
Brenner died due to complications resulting from an injury.
A revered leader in the Chicago fashion industry, Brenner along with her best friend, the late Susan Glick, vice president of women’s apparel at the Merchandise Mart, and the late Dorothy Fuller, who started the Apparel Industry Board in 1987 with the support of former Mayor Harold Washington, were instrumental in promoting fashion and fashion designers especially during a time when the city had a thriving apparel center.
“Marsha was young at heart, Susan was young at heart and Dorothy was also young at heart, these are women who worked hard, they looked fabulous and they worked until their very last day on Earth,” said Lauren Lein, president of AIBI and women’s apparel designer.
Brenner’s favorite saying, “The only thing that’s constant in fashion is change,” recalled Lein, captured how she embraced change and helped develop new programs for the city, from “Red Hot Chicago,” to “Chicago Is” to “Made In Chicago.”
“She had all the contacts with the government agencies, the seamers, the designers,” Lein said. “What AIBI is supposed to do, our mission is to support all sewn products in Illinois. It could be a couture suit, it could be a ready-to-wear outfit, it could be a pair of work gloves or a T-shirt. AIBI is there to support the entire sewn-product industry. It’s obviously changed since the beginning of time when Dorothy started it and Marsha was willing to change.”
Designer Richard Dayhoff first met Brenner in 1984, when she was a jewelry designer and he was a student at the International Academy of Design.
“Marsha was amazing, she had a showroom in the Apparel Center and she would always be on the floor designing jewelry. She had a team in the back and they would be assembling the jewelry right there,” Dayhoff said.
Brenner’s jewelry — bold and dramatic — paired well with Dayhoff’s minimalist designs and they began to collaborate as his career took off as a fashion designer. On more than one occasion, they sent outfits to the “Queen of Talk,” and once, they got a handwritten letter back. It read, “Dear Marsha & Richard, Many, many thanks for the lovely outfit. I love it. Wearing it tomorrow. Oprah Winfrey.”
Brenner served as executive director of the Apparel Industry Board since 1996. “It still hasn’t sunk in that she won’t be back in the office,” said Ambar Campos, co-executive director of AIBI.
“During her 23 years in the position, she dedicated countless hours to pursuing our mission,” Campos said. “She planned and executed hundreds of events, met with public officials and tackled mountains of paperwork day in and day out. When anyone had a question or concern about the sewing industry in Chicago they would call her and she would have an answer or solution for them.”
Marsha Brenner is survived by her husband Raymond of 60 years, her sons Scott, Steven and William and her five grandchildren, Max, Madeline, Joshua, Jordan and Lily.