Thursday, August 19, 2010

Odette Barsa, the legend, the entrepreneur, the woman

Today we conclude our interview with Nadia Barsa Bardwil Gerrity in reference to her mother, Odette Barsa, the First Lady of Madison Avenue.

When I started to research the Odette Barsa label I found a change in the patent/copyright from Odette Barsa to FRESOEUR, INC. CORPORATION. When asked about this change Mrs. Gerrity stated, "Our mother started her business as "Odette Barsa and it was always this until she changed the name to" FRESOEUR" meaning brothers and sister years later in 1966. The reason she changed the name was to make sure that I was part of the business, "one sister and two brothers." Odette's sons, Gabriel and Albert, became involved in the day to day running of the business after World War II (both Gabriel and Albert were in the army during the war)and Nadia was involved in a financial manner. Albert was an engineer having graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology( MIT,) Magna Cum Laude, and Gabriel graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fordham University.

Odette Barsa in back row, and left to right: Gabriel, Nadia and Albert

Mrs. Gerrity said, "I worked there for two summers during the war, and got a kick out of watching her figure the cost of something in French figures ,because of course her education was in the French language in Cairo. It was so interesting to see how all the employees admired her and were devoted to her . It was like a family there."

Mrs. Gerrity provided us with many personal photographs and articles which were written about her parents and Odette herself. The volume of magazine spreads in Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, etc. is impressive. Odette Barsa's intimate apparel lines were carried by the finest stores including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor and Bullocks to name just a few.

Advertisement from Harpers Bazaar

Cover of Harpers Bazaar April 1956

One of the articles I was provided mentioned that Mr. and Mrs. Barsa spent their summers in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania, which is an hours drive from where I live. When asked why her parents chose the Poconos as their summer retreat, Mrs. Gerrity explained "My mother wanted to send the three of us to camp. My brothers went to camp in Vermont and my mother found Camp Tegawitha for me in Tobyhanna, PA, right near Mount Pocono. They came up every weekend to visit me. It wasn't far. They found out they had friends in the area and bought a house. Then they moved to a bigger house. Then dad built us a house next door to his and we lived there for a few years in the summer, after I was married and had children. That was our love affair with the Poconos. But as our seven kids got older it was too hard to leave once we moved to Rye with summer jobs and other summer activities. We loved our summers there. Mother and dad were so happy there . They had lots of friends and had loads of parties. It was such an exceptional time in our lives!. What a gift, to have the old and the children so happy together.!! My children will never forget those days!"

I asked Mrs. Gerrity to tell us about her mother in her own words. She said, "Mother was an incredible business lady. She was the designer, the promoter, and the best sales person because everyone who came into the showroom wanted to see her. She was such a great lady, and everyone knew it. In the eyes of my mother, the love for her family at home always came first, her children and her husband and how can we forget those grandchildren? She was such a loving and giving person. As hard as she and my father worked, they always knew their responsibility was to give to charity to help others in need . Their hands were always extended. Because of this, our mother will always be admired and respected in the business world and with her family and friends."

"After Mother died in 1975, my brothers stayed in business together and then decided to go their separate ways."

We will now close our blog with some beautiful examples of Odette Barsa's intimate apparel from the personal collection of Nadia Barsa Bardwil Gerrity. We would like to thank Mrs. Gerrity once again for sharing her family with us.

White lace robe

Turquoise Peignoir Set

Butterfly Robe

Odette Barsa with granddaughter, Betsy in 1973

1 comment:

Members of The Vintage Lingerie Sellers Sales Team said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with me! I posted it for my teammates to see and appreciate. I love these personal stories that revolve around lingerie. I think it is my favorite thing about vintage lingerie, really. Reading your blog was especially meaningful to me as I am also of Lebanese decent and I remember my grandfather telling a very similar story of his immigration.

I knew nothing about this line, until one of my teammates mentioned it in an interview. Now, it is one of my favorites.

Thanks, again!

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Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, United States
We are the owners of Mod Mary's Vintage on Etsy.