South Charlotte

83-year-old thought the phone call was a scam. Instead, it led to a new career

83-year-old fashion designer

Gerry Schmitt of Matthews loves the artistic pursuit of designing clothes.
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Gerry Schmitt of Matthews loves the artistic pursuit of designing clothes.

Plantation Estates resident Gerry Schmitt continues to connect the dots of a life she’s lived in creative pursuit.

At age 83, she’s now added fashion designer to her resume, working with VIDA, an online company that markets clothing, accessories and home accent pieces designed by artists from all over the world.

“I had no idea about designing, not one, until I was sitting in my apartment one day and was contacted by the VIDA company. They said ‘one of our colleagues has seen your work on Facebook and thought your artwork would translate well into women’s apparel,’” said Schmitt.

She quickly dismissed the call.

“I assumed it was a scam. People are coming after our age group all the time, so I just brushed her off,” said Schmitt.

But her curiosity got the better of her and she looked up the company online. She found that it seemed legitimate and was backed by some pretty heavy hitting investors. Finding a VIDA article in Women’s Wear Daily, and getting encouragement from her daughter, Claudia Micare, who works for Getty Images in Manhattan, sealed the deal for her.

“Claudia said, ‘Mom, this looks like it could be a lot of fun.’ And those were the magic words, because at this stage of my life, that’s what I want – fun,” said Schmitt.

“Now I’m a designer. I never thought I would be able to add that to my handle!”

To do this kind of design, you have to have a lot of computer savvy and you have to have an eye for design.

Gerry Schmitt

But no one seems surprised that the vocal musician turned secretary turned artist turned photo restorer is continuing to plow new ground, least of all her husband of 60 years, Stan Schmitt, age 87.

“She can’t sit still. Sitting and resting for no reason is not in her DNA. She has to be creating something,” said Stan Schmitt.

When their six kids were younger, Gerry Schmitt took a “temporary” secretarial job at DuPont that turned into a permanent temporary position.

“They said I had a good phone voice. I credit my musical training,” said Schmitt.

Informally trained on an IBM Selectric typewriter, she watched with envy as another secretary used a cutting edge Apple 2 computer to produce the same amount of work in a quarter of the time.

“I told them I would stay on if they would get me a computer and teach me how to use it, “said Schmitt.

Dupont agreed, and her infatuation with technology has only grown stronger over the years.

Once her last child left for college, Stan bought her a set of Windsor-Newton oil paints and some brushes to help ease the loneliness of the empty house. She immersed herself in art for the next two years, and even had a one-woman show at Christina Cultural Arts in Wilmington, Delaware, before moving to Charlotte 20 years ago.

After relocating, she kept creating amazing art. One of masterpieces, “Healing,” a striking 3-foot by 5-foot modern oil piece she painted just after her mastectomy six years ago, hangs in the chapel of Plantation Estates with a copy hanging in the Novant Breast Center.

But she also became an expert in Photoshop after watching Stan manipulate the pictures he took on his daily walks around the grounds. Several years ago she started her own photo restoration business for Plantation Estates residents.

Now she is combining her artistic talents and her computer skills for her newest endeavor.

“To do this kind of design, you have to have a lot of computer savvy and you have to have an eye for design. I had both things necessary to become a good VIDA person,” said Schmitt.

She spends a few hours most days designing scarfs, tote bags, wraps and more on her computer with either pictures of her original art, or Stan’s original photos, beside her for inspiration.

Still, while she’s having fun in her new career, she won’t be particularly surprised if another opportunity comes along.

“When you have a repeat of cancer, you have to take life one day at a time. I’ve learned to go with the flow,” said Schmitt.

“It’s been a wild ride. It really has. I have no idea what will come next, but I’m always open to new experiences.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

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