Ruth West, The Woman Who Transformed Pam Grier Into Foxy Brown

Ruth West was the premier designer for some of the top performers of the 1970s. Famous names like the Ann-Margret and the Jackson family would step in and out of her Hollywood storefront to be fitted in eye-catching looks for on and off the stage. 

West built this reputation by crafting wares that were not only stylish but functional. “… When you get something tailored … and the sleeves start coming off onstage- well. Ruthie’s stuff always stays together,” commented Billy Griffin to Ebony Magazine in 1977.  Aside from clothing performers in glittering garbs, she also designed the iconic looks for Pam Grier in the 1974 film, Foxy Brown.

West learned how to craft her first stitch by quilting with her grandmother as a child. As she grew into a young woman, she built her eye for design in a still-life class at Washington University in St. Louis. This combination of form and handiwork led to West finding sewing work for a local designer. There, she created multiple best-selling looks for the brand. 

Although West’s talent was a financial benefit for the designer, her boss encouraged her to venture out to California and create a name of her own. She took the advice and left for the Golden State. As in St. Louis, the California-based West found herself crafting designs under a designer’s name. She knew her worth, so she quit her job and established herself as an independent designer. This meant taking a deep pay cut and building clientele from scratch. 

Amid this career change, West bought a charity raffle ticket with her last $15. That philanthropic spending proved to be a fruitful purchase. She had the winning ticket, a trip to Hawaii. A friend bought the trip from West and she used that money to make a down payment for a storefront that would become the International Costume Company. Within her first year, she made $41,000 and started her path in becoming a designer to the stars.  

To see the original photographs and profile of Ruth West, check out the May 1977 edition of Ebony Magazine.   

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