WHO: Fran Olson, an awesome lady. WHERE: At home. CLOTHES: Suit made by Fran herself. ACCESSORIES: Multi-colored glasses, approx. $800, Viva Optical (#2 1801 Scarth St); Handmade “Neck-less” by Fran (includes the scarf, buttons and jewels); rings made by sons Derek and Scott Olson for her 35 years ago for her 25th anniversary. HAIR: Herself.
When I grow up, I want to be just like Fran.
When Fran got married in 1949, women were not encouraged to work. So instead, she got pregnant four times. When the Thatcher government came in to power, her husband was let go. With no severance pay to help them out, Fran decided she needed to go to work. Since she moved the family every two years to accompany her growing family, her husband suggested she get into real estate. In 1969, no women were in real estate, so she was often laughed at by the men in the field. Instead of giving up, she started her own company and hired all women. Thus began Francis Olson Realty. Within a short few years, she took over the real estate market in Regina. With her desire to achieve, the smart women working with her, and her much talked about coloured stationary, soon magazines across Canada were writing features on Fran and calls from women across the world were calling her for advice on how to start their own company. A bad car accident ended her real estate career 20 years later, and she now has been retired for 25 years. But since then, she has moved houses about 7 times. As Fran laughs, “I can't stop buying houses! It is in my blood I think! Every house is an adventure, so I never bet bored.”
How has retirement been treating you? This year I really found my passion in making my neck-less's and knitting big ones, and ones for men. I am having such a good time, I am really happy. It is really important when you lose your husband, to have a lot of girlfriends. They are such a wonderful support system. They certainly inspire me. I mentor a group of young women, and it is the most inspiring group of ladies I have ever been with. It is an incredible group of woman.
How did you learn how to make your own clothes? My mother would knit, crochet and sew and she taught me a lot. When I was about six years old, I would sit under the covers with a flashlight and I would knit. I love the feel of fabric. It is just part of me. When when I was in Cabo San Lucas, I was going to paint a picture. But I thought, I always wanted to study fabric design, so I started making pictures out of fabric. Sometimes I combine pure silk, paint and pure wool (Similar to the one she is pictured with).
Describe your style over the decades. I have always loved fashion and style. I loved Home Ec in school. I enjoy finding a piece of fabric and then knitting something to coordinate with it. I coordinated my suits to match my “neck-less”. I like matchy matchy. I am from that generation. A few years ago, I made an incredible suit, and people still talk about it. I took a cream colored linen table cloth because I loved the fabric. I made it into a pant suit and then added knit pieces too it.
One of your most precious creations? I have a picture of me in a beautiful green dress that I made that I wore to a formal up in Yorkton. Everyone said “You look like Jackie Kennedy, you shouldn't be here”. Turns out, that was the night that Jack Kennedy was shot.
I have seen you wearing different glasses before. Do you have many? I read once, instead of buying a new dress, you should buy a new face. So, I have about seven pair of different colored glasses.
Can you leave our readers with a story? A few years ago, the MacKenzie had a Warhol exhibit up, and we all dressed up for one of the parties. I wore a pink Chanel suit, a pill box hat, big sunglasses, and my hair in a page boy. I said “This is what Jackie Kennedy would look like if she lived to be 80 years old.” I told Margaret Trudeau this story, and she says “Your not 80 years are you? I sure hope I look like you when I am 80!” And I said, “You won't unless you colour hair.”
Interview and photography by Carey Shaw for prairie dog