Byline: Lisa Lockwood
NEW YORK — “Indeed she was a character, but what a wonderful character.”
That’s how Rev. Joseph Baker characterized Anita Gallo, former vice president and fashion director of B. Altman, on Friday morning at her memorial service. Gallo died of cardiac arrest on Nov. 29 at the age of 65.
Louis Dell’Olio, Joan Kaner, Bernadine Morris, Mary Ann Restivo, Laurence C. Leeds, Dawn Mello and Grace Mirabella were among the 120 people who gathered at the U.N. Chapel to honor Gallo’s life and lifelong commitment to her husband, Fred Rothstein, president of the consulting firm Roga International Inc.; her family, and the fashion industry.
Gallo was praised for her innate talent for discovering and nurturing new designers and for bringing friends and family treasured gifts from around the world. Her interests beyond fashion and shopping varied widely, from Italian cooking to fishing.
“Anita didn’t suffer fools gladly. She was a straight arrow, honest and loving, and she was my friend,” said Morris, a former fashion reporter for the New York Times. “Before that, she was my subject. I wrote about her as fashion director of B. Altman. She was always honest, and as a reporter, you get to appreciate those things.”
Morris described Gallo as “serious, hard-working and determined to be the best — and get the best out of everyone.”
Gallo, a pioneer in winning recognition for women in retailing, was the first female vice president of B. Altman — and one of the first women to hold that title for any major department store. “But first, she was fun and great to be with,” Morris said.
Morris recalled an adventure they shared in Milan, where she and Gallo were invited to a ballet at La Scala for which Gianni Versace had designed the costumes. There was a taxi strike that night, so they needed a private car. Gallo said, “‘Don’t worry about it — I know everybody in the hotel, and I’ll get a car and pick you up,”‘ Morris related. “But all the cars were spoken for and she called back to say we were taking the trolley.” When Gallo appeared riding the trolley, “there was this vision in a tight-draped Versace dress he had made for her, with a side slit up to the hips. She wore the appropriate accessories — 10-inch heels and a glitter bag. Everybody on the trolley was looking at her. There were working men and women, and people holding [shopping] bags. And there’s Anita in a red satin Versace. They thought she could have been a geisha girl or a society girl. She laughed and talked to all the other passengers, telling them where she was going, and they cheered when we got off at La Scala.”
Morris said Gallo had a talent for being able to stuff two to three weeks’ worth of clothing in a duffel bag — not a Louis Vuitton steamer — and unpack with nary a wrinkle in sight.
Gallo worked at B. Altman her entire career, from the time she was 18 and got a job as a salesperson through her vice presidency. She retired in 1987.
Throughout her career and her life with Rothstein, Gallo traveled the world.
On one trip to Kenya, Rothstein recalled, Gallo discovered great bangle bracelets and wanted to bring them back to the U.S. She bought 100 of them, and packed them into two big bags that she carried from country to country until she was stopped at customs in Munich, which wouldn’t allow her to bring them any further. The agents confiscated them and shipped them to Bonn, where Gallo picked them up later in her trip. She then spent a half day selling the bangles to retailers in Amsterdam, Rothstein said, and sold out to the piece.