Meet Gerry Davis

By Leslie Moore

Meet Gerry Davis

Artist and fashion illustrator, Gerry Davis lives in the small town of Wilson, North Carolina, and recently his work caught the eye of Ginny Lassiter, owner of Sunset River Marketplace, while she was in Wilson visiting her parents, close friends of Gerry’s. She loved Gerry’s work and soon had arranged an exhibit. Through June 15th, 30 of Gerry’s fashion illustrations will be featured in the gallery, plus his whimsical shoe sculptures. Now in his 70s, Gerry’s life has taken him from Christian Dior’s Paris to New York’s 7th Avenue, where his work graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, but his heart led him back home to North Carolina to live and work. This is Gerry’s first major exhibit, and he is thrilled to share his creative vision.

Have you always been interested in art and fashion?

I grew up in the little town of Farmville, North Carolina, the only one in a class of 57 interested in the arts. I took piano, voice and studied portrait painting in Greenville with Georgia Pearsall Hearne. I was very lucky to have parents who encouraged and supported me in everything and anything I wanted to do. I wanted to be a fashion designer, but also wanted a college degree. I attended Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU) and majored in Fashion Illustration because at that time they were not allowing males in the design course. After graduation my mom asked what I wanted to do next. (My dad died my sophomore year.) I told her I wanted to study in Paris, and her reply was, “I’m sure if your father was here he would make it possible.” So she did!

Tell us a little about your time in Paris.

I lived in Paris from the fall of 1958 to the fall of 1959. I did not work, rather I went to school. First I was enrolled at Cours Bercot, Dessin De Mode. After I realized I was doing the same thing I did in college, fashion illustration, I interviewed and became an apprentice with a modeliste of Christian Dior’s in order to study draping and design. It was a fantastic year as I learned so much and made many wonderful friends that I’ve stayed in touch with through the years.

What type of fashion design most interested you?

My partner Brook Volland and I first began designing hats together in New York, under the label Gerald-Brook. We worked on each other’s designs, offered suggestions, and since Brook did not use a sewing machine I did all the machine work. It was truly a collaborative effort – we were business partners as well as life partners for 49 years until Brook’s death last July.

In 1964 Brook went to Grand Bahama Island to manage the Battaglia Shop in the Lucayan Beach Hotel, and I joined him there. We painted driftwood in our spare time, sold it from the boutique and saved enough money to open our first millinery shop in New York in the fall of 1965. In 1969 we moved to Wilson, North Carolina, opened Gerald-Brook Boutique and ran the shop for 28 years.

Why did you decide to come back to North Carolina?

I wanted to be a designer, but while in New York I soon realized I was not cut out to be on 7th Avenue. I didn’t have the stamina for all the intrigue nor was I willing to take part in some of the things that used to take place in that business. Perhaps I didn’t want it badly enough.

Farmville is only 22 miles from Wilson, and I knew there was opportunity here. The lease on our New York store was up and the rent soared. We decided it was time to go where the living was a bit easier, so we chose Wilson. When we first opened, we began as a custom millinery shop, but after a couple of years ladies started back-combing their hair (teasing) and that was the end of millinery. Consequently, we went into ready-to-wear to stay in the fashion game. At the beginning I had a couple of customers that I custom made clothing for, but as we grew I had no time to do the custom work.

Can you tell me about your 1964 Harpers Bazaar cover?

The 1964 cover came about prior to Brook going to the Bahamas. He was managing the Battaglia shop on Park Avenue, and Mr. Battaglia allowed us to have a showing of hats on the second floor. An editor from Harper’s came and asked to photograph some of the styles. And the next thing we knew we were on the cover. The odd thing is Battaglia Shop got the credit rather than the designers, Gerald-Brook!

How did you evolve to creating these wonderful high heel shoe sculptures?

The shoes! Ha! I’ve always come up with crazy things to do with my talent. I have dear friends who have a shop here in Wilson called JoLiAn. Several years ago I asked if I could create something for their Christmas window and I did. After a couple of years, I told Peggy we needed something new, and I took two pairs of shoes and decorated them with beads, sprays, bangles, anything sparkly and shiny. They were a big hit, and that was the beginning of my shoe sculptures.

I’m very excited…almost 78 and having a gallery show…wow! I guess creating is just in my genes – I love beauty, I love fashion, I love portrait painting, I love using all media when creating. I also play classical piano (for my own enjoyment), and I loved acting when I was a participant in the local theater group. Creating is simply my life.

Many thanks to Sunset River Marketplace for their contribution to this interview.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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