ANITA GALLO, FASHION EXEC
Byline: Anamaria Wilson / David Moin
NEW YORK — Anita Gallo, a longtime fashion executive for B. Altman & Co. known for nurturing young design talent from Calvin Klein to Gianni Versace, died at New York Presbyterian Hospital last Thursday due to cardiac arrest. She was 65.
Gallo enjoyed a successful career at the store that spanned over 30 years. She began in sales, rose to assistant buyer, then buyer, fashion director and eventually became B. Altman’s first female vice president. She retired in 1987.
“She was one hell of a fabulous lady. She was what the fashion business was all about,” said Calvin Klein. “No one could articulate fashion the way Anita could.”
Her success resulted from her keen eye and strong fashion sense. Once, before she became a full-fledged buyer, she ordered hundreds of pillbox hats immediately after Jackie Kennedy wore one to her husband’s inauguration, and scored one of the best sell-throughs of the season. She was soon promoted to buyer and later would nurture talents that also included Geoffrey Beene and Perry Ellis.
Altman’s always had a strong reputation in home furnishings, but Gallo was successful in raising the fashion content and finessing a classic image for the store. As Klein recalled, “She had a real challenge because B. Altman was not a fashion store. It wasn’t Bergdorf’s or Saks. But I think because of her passion, she got people to be supportive of the store. It was a tribute to her,” he said.
“She succeeded in creating a classic fashion image for B. Altman in the Seventies and Eighties, and she had a major impact bringing Gianni Versace to America,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction. “She was very respected.”
Early in her career at Altman’s, Gallo worked for Dawn Mello, who was the fashion director of the store at the time and eventually moved on to top posts at Bergdorf Goodman and Gucci. “Anita started in sales and she was so good at it that she was quickly promoted,” Mello said. “She became a buyer on the third floor, showed she had great style and loved finding and nurturing young talent.”
Gallo was born with twisted vocal cords and had 13 operations as a baby; doctors thought she might never speak. However, the childhood disability meant she spoke in a high pitch for all her life, which became part of her endearing personality.
In addition to her husband, Fred Rothstein, Gallo is survived by two stepchildren, Randy and Paul Rothstein. A private service will be held today and a memorial service is being planned for later in the week at the United Nations Chapel.