Frank Fontana, Pattern Drafting and Design

My mother, Anita Fontana, designed evening wear and bridal gowns on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. She made dresses for the wives of the prizefighters Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano, and for actor Robert Alda’s wife—the list goes on. Wherever she was, she’d have a sketchpad with her.
I worked at Fontana Couture when I grew up, and I went to FIT at night in the ’60s to learn draping and patternmaking. I wasn’t a great designer, but I enjoyed picking out styles that I thought people would like. It’s in the genes, I guess. My family has been in the garment industry for well over 100 years. My grandfather came from Italy and designed coatsin the Garment Center.
Eventually my mother got arthritis in her hand and stopped making gowns. Getting fabric was more difficult, too—the fabric stores in the Garment Center had mostly disappeared. So we phased out the custom gowns and did ready-to-wear. I did the buying, and she oversaw 25 employees in the alterations department. She worked till she was 95, and she passed away two years ago at 97. My son took over Fontana Couture and moved the showroom to Greenwich, CT. I was so proud that he stayed in the family business. Technically, I’m supposed to be retired, but I still help out. We’re all devoted to the legacy that my mother left us.