The apparel and home fashions industries mourn the loss of Eileen West, who died at 68 on Sept. 27, 2017, in Marin, CA, of complications from organizing pneumonia. Known for women’s sleepwear, apparel and home fashions that emphasize femininity in floral and embroidered moifs, and the use of natural fibers in an age of polyester, Eileen West began life as Aileen Reis on Sept. 1, 1949 in Greenbrae, CA, the fourth of six children of Frank and Mary Reis.
After attending college, she met David Westerbeke and they married in 1975. Their daugher, Julia, was born in 1981. The family thrived in the San Francisco area, with homes in Mill Valley and Sonoma.
Eileen’s early career included jobs at the Consolidated Mill in San Francisco, a family business owned by David’s grandfather, and at the Alvin Duskin clothing boutique.
According to David, Eileen was “always doing little sketches and drawings, little flower design things that became pattern, lace and dress ideas.”
This talent was propelled to the foreground when Eileen met Laney Thornton, who became a trusted friend and a catalyst for the creation of the Eileen West brand.
“Laney was an importer and entrepreneur, and Mom was a designer still in her 20s,” Julia says. “Because she was so young when she started, being in business was her real education.”
Thornton and West founded four businesses: Adero accessories, Rio women’s sportswear, the Eileen West collection and the Queen Anne’s Lace couture division of Eileen West.
“The company was originally Aileen West with an ‘A’,” Julia explains. “They shortened Westerbeke to West, because it was a bit of a mouthful. But then they learned there was another company with a similarly spelled Aileen in the name.” So the company was dubbed Eileen West.
Through the years, business flourished. At one time, there were three Eileen West boutiques in San Francisco, which closed in the 1990s. Eileen West designs have been and continue to be sold in major department stores, including Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, and online. In the late 1990s, Eileen West was licensed to New York sleepwear company Komar, but remains based in San Francisco.
In 2005, Eileen received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Intimate Apparel Industry’s annual Femmy Gala in recognition of her contributions.
In her non-professional life, she enjoyed opera, ballet and Italian cooking, loved animals and, according to Julia, “knew the name of every flower in existence.”
“My mother made it her life’s work to bring beauty to the world, a beauty found not only in her designs, but also in her perpetually bright, deeply caring and unsinkable spirit,” says Julia.
Eileen West brought to the business world a great talent through her designs, but also the personality and character of a woman to be admired in how she lived her life—with grace, sincerity, kindness, honesty and trust.
Fortunately, the family business under the leadership of Julia Westerbeke, creative director of the Eileen West brand, continues.
Eileen West home fashions includes licensing partnerships with AQ Textiles (middle photo), Baltic Linen (photo at the bottom) and Melange Home.