Ann Gish Phillips Dies at 70; Designed and Sold Luxury Bedding

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Ann Gish Phillips, a bedding and textiles designer whose luxury home goods company sold more than 1,500 products in stores around the globe, died on Aug. 2 at her home in North Salem, N.Y. She was 70.

Her daughter, Jane Gish, said the cause was lung cancer.

Mrs. Gish Phillips started her brand with a set of washable silk place mats and napkins before rapidly expanding into bedding and, later, furniture and home decoration accoutrements, all under the brand name Ann Gish.

Department stores and online retailers carry her wares, and her designs have been used in Broadway shows, including the most recent production of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” as well as in films and on television shows.

Her products were given their most prominent display in 2011, when Mrs. Gish Phillips opened a 4,000-square-foot store in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. She immediately declared her unconventionality.

The philosophy of the store is to do what I feel like,” she told The New York Times after the opening. She added, “One bed might stay for six months; another might change in a week.”

Jane Gish, who recently took her mother’s place as chief executive of Ann Gish Inc., said Mrs. Gish Phillips had never looked at trend reports or at what her competition was doing, quoting her as saying, “I don’t need to. I know what I like.”

She later launched more moderately priced bedding lines; most of her high end products were washable, distinguishing them from the competition. The Flatiron store closed this summer after its lease expired, but the company hopes to open a new showroom in Manhattan, Jane Gish said. The company, which is private, would not disclose sales or revenue figures.

Before starting her business Mrs. Gish Phillips had worked as an interior designer in Los Angeles in the 1980s, running a firm called Ann Gish & Associates. When, by her account, she decided that the home furnishings market did not have what she was looking for, she decided to fill the void.

She brought her first products — place mats and napkins made from Dupioni silk — to the Mottura Showroom in Los Angeles, which was then owned by Gary McNatton. Mrs. Gish Phillips described him as her early design mentor.

“I was totally taken by them,” said Mr. McNatton, who is now a co-owner of Hudson Grace, a home decor shop in San Francisco.

“Silk is a much more sturdy material than you’d ever imagine,” he recalled her explaining, “and it is much more for the every day than the precious material that we think it is.”

Mr. McNatton ordered several dozen of each sample and asked that they be delivered the next week. Mrs. Gish Phillips was completely unprepared.

“She hadn’t ordered the fabric, she hadn’t washed the fabric, she hadn’t gotten sewers,” Jane Gish said. “It was so by the seat of her pants.”

Mrs. Gish Phillips tried her hand at sewing to fill the order herself before sending out calls for help. Neighbors, friends of friends, even the family’s local dry cleaners, came to assist with the sewing. The order was filled, and Mrs. Gish Phillips’s new career was on its way. Ann Gish Inc. was established in 1991.

Her business was a family affair. Jane began working at her mother’s company after studying linguistics at New York University, “not counting basically stamping envelopes in her office when I was 12,” she said. And Ann’s husband, David Phillips, is the chief financial officer. They worked together for more than two decades.

Ann Josephine Gangel was born on Oct. 1, 1948, in Manhattan to Melvin and Jane (Kaufman) Gangel. Her father managed a department store in the city. Years later, her mother owned a Southern California beauty parlor chain called Miss Haircut.

Mrs. Gish Phillips spent most of her young life in New York City. After her parents divorced, Ann, her two sisters and her mother moved to Beverly Hills, Calif., where Ann spent two years at Beverly Hills High School.

Her mother would marry a total of five times, the first four marriages ending in divorce. One husband, David Peters, adopted Ann and her two sisters, Ilene and Geraldine, giving them the surname Peters.

Ann regularly sneaked out of the house at night as a teenager and used LSD, her daughter said. She was eventually sent back East to live with her grandmother in Purchase, N.Y., and finish high school at the Walden School in Manhattan. She would later attribute her obsession with color to LSD’s hallucinogenic effects.

She spent a few months at Boston University before dropping out and returning to New York City. She worked for a time as a TV and film producer, her family said.

She met her first husband, Paul Rubinstein, while working at an advertising agency in the late 1960s. The couple had two sons before divorcing several years later. She married Walter Gish (Jane’s father) in 1980. That marriage, too, ended in divorce, in 1993, but Ann kept the surname Gish.

Mr. Phillips and Mrs. Gish Phillips met in 1998 while they were each exhibiting products at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York; Mr. Phillips was selling handbags. They married in 2000, on a beach in Malibu, Calif.

After they bought their first home in Los Angeles, Mrs. Gish Phillips demonstrated her acute sense of color when trying to decide what shade of white to paint the interior, Mr. Phillips said. She selected 50 varieties and tested them on the walls, examining how they would appear in the light at different times of the day, before making her final choice.

“The level of perfectionism with color was absolutely fascinating,” her husband said.

The couple traveled often and lived in Southern California, England, France, briefly in China, and in Barbados, where they restored a 1712 sugar mill plantation residence. Most recently they lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as well as in North Salem.

In addition to her husband, daughter and sisters, Mrs. Gish Phillips’s survivors include two sons from her first marriage, Noah and Theo Rubinstein; two stepchildren, Ben and Chiara Phillips; a half sister, Deborah; and six grandchildren.


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