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NEW YORK — Eve Stillman, a designer of upscale sleepwear favored by the social and celebrity sets, died in her sleep Friday at her home in Palm Beach, Fla., according to her nephew, Red Freeman. She was 97.
An outspoken and colorful figure of the innerwear industry for more than 50 years, Stillman was known for her understated and elegant sleep gowns and robes that were worn by such personalities as Joan Crawford, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Tierney, Ida Lupino and Barbara Stanwyck.
Stillman entered the design field in 1949, when the company her late husband, Harry Stillman, founded, Gracette Lingerie, was in financial trouble.
“She had been a socialite and had never worked a day in her life,” said Freeman. “The accountants came to her and said, ‘Your husband is going out of business and you won’t be able to keep up your lifestyle.’ She replied, ‘Absolutely not. I’m going to work.’ And she did everything and anything necessary to make money. I think she accomplished that from the sheer force of her personality.”
Crucial to staying in business for the company was securing an account from Lerner’s. Stillman schmoozed and wooed buyers at the Lerner’s offices every morning for several months until they finally gave her an order.
But Stillman had no intentions of the company remaining a low-end resource. Her goal was to design high-end sleepwear and lingerie for the stores she was fond of shopping, like Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Best & Co. She finally made her mark in the upscale field when ready-to-wear designer Anne Fogarty used Stillman’s crinolines underneath wide skirts.
Financially secure after a consumer craze for crinolines, she renamed the company Eve Stillman in 1956. Harry Stillman died in 1979. She retired in 1984, and in 1989, the Stillman firm was sold to Kefco Apparel, a sister unit of Natori Co.
Josie Natori, chief executive officer of Natori, recalled: “Eve was feisty — just amazing. Certainly, she was a legend when I first came into the lingerie business 25 years ago.”
Carole Hochman, president of Carole Hochman Designs Inc., remembered: “Eve Stillman was a huge talent and a tremendous influence on our industry. Her energy and creativity made her a leader way before lingerie made headlines. She traveled extensively and always had the newest ideas, the best prints and the sexiest new shape.”
“She simply was the grande dame of the [innerwear] industry,” said Freeman.
Stillman had requested no services be conducted. She is survived by her twin sister, Bertha Freeman; brother, David Feinberg, and daughter, Frances Linderman.