Lilly Pulitzer, 1931-2013 “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.”

The world is a little less bright today. Lilly Pulitzer died this morning at her home in Palm Beach.

More from the Lilly Pulitzer Facebook page:

Early this morning, Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau passed away peacefully in Palm Beach, surrounded by family and loved ones. Lilly has been a true inspiration to us and we will miss her.

In the days and weeks ahead we will celebrate all that Lilly meant to us. Lilly was a true original who has brought together generations through her bright and happy mark on the world.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Most friends here know how Lilly became a fashion entrepreneur, but I always learn something new whenever looking back at the amazing tale of Lilly’s life. More from Women’s Wear Daily:

In search of a hobby after suffering a bout of depression in her late twenties, Pulitzer at first opened an orange juice stand in 1958 and then began developing brightly colored and boldly patterned shifts and blouses to help hide the stains created by her new enterprise.

Via

Robert H. Houston/AP via The NY Times

From the NY Times:

Pulitzer’s dresses hung behind her juice stand and soon outsold her drinks. A boutique featuring the company’s dresses — developed with the help of partner Laura Robbins, a former fashion editor — soon replaced the juice stand.

Below we see Wendy Vanderbilt and a friend wearing their Lilly shift dresses in 1964.

Assouline Palm Beach viaPost

Assouline via Palm Beach Post

This offers a better view of a vintage Lilly dress.

nelsonbridge etsy

nelsonbridge etsy

The dresses became a big hit in Florida and other resort communities.

Lilly Pulitzer Pinterest

Slim Aarons via People Magazine

From WWD’s story:

….the accidental designer began selling the dresses for $22.50 apiece and couldn’t keep up with demand, aided by a designing couple at Key West Fabrics who helped conceive the lively colors, tropical print themes and other bits of whimsy that would become the brand’s signature.

The fabric was made in Florida at Key West Hand Print Fabrics, TQM was fortunate enough to visit and watch textiles actually being created.

Florida Memory

Charles Barron/Florida Memory

Below we see a 1962 photo of a woman in a bespoke Lilly silk dress, in the background, Lake Worth.

Via Life Magazine

Via Life Magazine

Lilly in a seashell dress.

Henry Grossman/Timepix via Women's Wear Daily

Henry Grossman/Timepix via Women’s Wear Daily

But the famous frocks weren’t really a national phenomenon until Jackie Kennedy was photographed wearing one on the Cape.

LIFE Magazine

LIFE Magazine

Back top the Times story:

Pulitzer’s tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s when then-first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who attended boarding school with Pulitzer, wore one of the sleeveless shifts in a Life magazine photo spread.

And things really took off. Below, some early ads shared by on the Lilly Pulitzer Pinterest page. At the bottom of the photo lower left you might just be able to see that fabric was available for $5 a yard.

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

Many early pieces were embellished with lace.

/Posh Girl Vintage/

NelsonBridge etsy/Posh Girl Vintage/

This offers a more detailed view.

Flashbax etsy Shop

Another example.

SweetLittle etsy Shop

I like this part of a 2008 W Magazine story describing how Lilly stuck to her guns:

Though Rousseau credits a confluence of timing and luck for her success—with the Kennedy clan vacationing in Palm Beach those days, “the light was shining in this spot”—an unflinching stubbornness clearly served her label well. Told by one retailer that she had to start making fall clothes, Rousseau replied, “Oh, but you don’t understand, it’s always summer somewhere.”

Thus she introduced what just may have been one of the first resort collections, a year-round summery lineup that grew to include men’s, children’s and swimwear…

Two vintage menswear pieces.
First Dibs

First Dibs

A 1968 ad for the men’s line of clothing via Lilly Pulitzer’s Pinterest.
1968 Advertisement via Lilly Pulitzer Pinterest

1968 Advertisement via Lilly Pulitzer Pinterest

From a 2003 piece in Vanity Fair titled Palm Beach’s Barefoot Princess:
The Lilly Pulitzer product grew like a family. A Lillyputian version of the shift called “the Minnie,” named for Lilly’s elder daughter, was made for little girls—a great marketing move. Clothes for men took off, too: pants, swim trunks, ties, and a line of batiste nightshirts….”

Square with Flair

And what men liked their Lilly? People magazine’s story has an answer.

Men, too, got Pulitzer-ed, among them: author George Plimpton, comedian Bob Hope and football star Joe Namath, in wildly flowered pink-and-blue PJs (Pulitzer Jeans).

Vintage Lilly menswear continues to be popular even now, this is a March post by the Necessary & Proper blog.

Necessary & Proper Blog

Necessary & Proper Blog

But it was the womenswear that fueled the company, this is from a 1977 catalog.

Lilly Pulitzer via Pink Pelican

Lilly Pulitzer Pinterest

Lilly surrounded herself with color.  Rich, vivid, vibrant colors.

Via

Via

That remained true for womenswear, be it bell bottoms or a mini-dress.

First Dibs/Chictopia

First Dibs/Chictopia

Despite Lilly’s relatively high profile she preferred life out of the spotlight. From Vanity Fair:

Lilly is private. Even her closest friends complain of how tucked away she keeps her feelings—“a sphinx,” one calls her. “Scorpio” is what she calls herself. “They do everything in excess,” Lilly explains, “but keep things very close to the chest. I’m not into horoscopes and all that, but it is telling. Scorpios hold everything in.” Just like the Lilly. When that whimsical shift is on, you can’t tell what’s happening underneath.

The Pink Pelican has a wonderful Vintage Lilly Pinterest board.

Pink Pelican Pinterest

Pink Pelican Pinterest

The business grew for many years but then things started to slow down, we return to W Magazine’s story:

By the early Eighties, however, the working-girl wardrobe and a neutral palette had taken over fashion; sales were flagging, and Rousseau shut the whole thing down in 1984.

And then in 1993, the year her husband died, Rousseau was visited by Philadelphia businessmen James “Brad” Bradbeer Jr. and Scott Beaumont. There had been a generational shift, says Bradbeer, and the daughters and granddaughters of Lilly lovers were eager for those snappy prints and flatter-every-shape frocks.

The love of Lilly did pass from one generation to the next. This photo from a 2009 Vanity Fair story shows Kathleen Kennedy and Rose Kennedy (L) in their Lilly, on the right we see Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s daughters Kick and Kyra Kennedy in Lilly’s “Not So Crabby” print.

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

Lilly remained an active part of the re-launched brand, providing consulting services to the rejuvenated label.

Lilly Pulitzer 2004 via Palm Beach Post

Lilly Pulitzer 2004 via Palm Beach Post

Lilly’s design ethos speaks to her approach to life. Back to the Times story:

“I designed collections around whatever struck my fancy … fruits, vegetables, politics, or peacocks! I entered in with no business sense. It was a total change of life for me, but it made people happy,”

“Style isn’t just about what you wear, it’s about how you live,” Pulitzer said in 2004.

Via

Via

Lilly loved spending time with family and friends. Below, we see the entrepreneur in 2004 with her granddaughters, (l to r) Lilly Leas, Charlotte Pulitzer, and Emma Pulitzer, after presenting the brand’s 2005 spring runway show.

Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times

Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times

Today the colors remain rich and spirited as seen in a group of Lilly Murfee scarves.

Lilly Pulitzer

Lilly Pulitzer

From today’s coverage in Women’s Wear Daily :

“Today we celebrate all that Lilly meant to us and come together as Lilly lovers to honor a true original who has brought together generations through her bright and happy mark on the world,” James B. Bradbeer Jr. and Scott A. Beaumont, who bought the Lilly Pulitzer brand in 1992, said in a statement.

James Bradbeer Jr., president of Lilly Pulitzer, noted, “Lilly would always say, ‘It’s all about happy.’ There aren’t many places in our industry where happy is at the core. That has transcended time and generations, and it tells you a lot about the kind of special person that Lilly was.”

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

I like Kathie Orrico’s description of this one of a kind treasure:

“She sprinkled fun and pixie dust everywhere she went and was joyful right until the end,” said Kathie Orrico, a partner at C. Orrico, the specialty retailer that operates three Lilly Pulitzer stores and carries the line in its other four stores as well. “I saw her just last week and, just like always, she had cute phrases and words that inspired us to be bright and happy.

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

Via Pink Pelican Pinterest

That seems fitting, fun and pixie dust.

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18 Comments

Filed under Prepalicious, preppy, Preppy clothing & brands, Preppy Fashion, preppy lifestyle, Pretty in Pink

18 responses to “Lilly Pulitzer, 1931-2013 “Anything is possible with sunshine and a little pink.”

  1. I knew that you would have a fabulous tribute to Lilly Pulitzer. I loved reading something I’ve always felt…”when that Lilly shift is on, you can’t tell what’s happening underneath.” That is one of the main reasons I love the shifts…they cover my not-so-perfect figure!

  2. I love her story. I love seeing (and feeling) life through her eyes–simple, colorful, classic, vibrant, fun. I adore the brand and the lifestyle image!!!

  3. mona

    A lovely tribute. R.I.P. Lilly. Your unique style made this world a more colorful, and cheerful place to live.

  4. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful visionaire…what a wonderful life she had, and beautiful things she created, her legacy will certainly live on forever as few are as iconic as she was. I have so many wonderful LP things that I love and even the ones I don’t wear anymore…I cannot part with. Wonderfully done!!

  5. Bboss

    I loved the fabrics. I lived in Key West in the late 60’s when I was little. My mom used to buy Key West fabrics to sew dresses for me and herself. Now I can’t even begin to afford a Lilly dress, but I love them just the same.

  6. Love this story, my mother loved going there to see them printing. I wish I had the fabric now! 🙂

  7. Thank you Kristin, it was a tough one to write. 😦

  8. It’s like looking at life through Lilly-colored glasses! 🙂

  9. Awww, thank you Miss Janice. We share the same reason for loving the shift, it covers a multitude of sins!

  10. Reblogged this on betchessayshit and commented:
    We’ll miss you, betches for life, Lilly.

  11. Thanks so much for this post. I knew you would do an excellent piece on Lilly Pulitzer.

  12. Awww, thank you, that means a lot. 🙂

  13. What a wonderful post. So glad Kathie Orrico saw her near the end and said she was in good spirits. That makes me feel a lot better!

  14. Wonderful tribute!! You truly cannot see a Lilly print without knowing from 10 feet away what you are seeing is indeed Lilly. Superb story. She will be missed.

  15. VickyMacDonald

    Always remember my first Lilly while checking into the Plaza as a young girl many many years ago. It did have lace! I wore it all over New York and it inspired me to start carrying a little clutch bag instead of my stuffed dog.

  16. It’s the end of an era. If you think today’s Lillys are expensive my mother-in-law told me back in the early 70s. the beautiful long Lillys many women that were de rigeur for entertaining poolside cost $150 and up. So doing the math on that in today’s economy, one can see how easy it is for a $398 dress to be priced as a mid-priced garment. She swears the fabrics were more beautiful, the laces richer and handmade and the details well, just better compared to the Lillys of our day. Lilly oversaw ever facet of the manufacturing process: traveling to Key West where the fabrics were hand printed in luscious colors and printed by hand: a very labor intensive process. She was loyal to her friends: hiring them to run her boutiques which they did enthusiastically. She opened shops wherever she had friends to run them. She was blissfully happy with her second husband, a Cuban, Enrique Rousseau whose death in 1993 devasted her. Her grandchildren “were like olive shoots around her table” to quote the Bible, she was often barefoot, she fed the hungry from her ample refrigerator and brought a new style of entertaining to stuffy Palm Beach. For her daughter!s wedding, she had tablecloths made up with the names of the bride and groom silkscreened in the fabric in bright colors. There were Tiki lights & lanterns and it was all chic yet casual. Everyone copied her.
    We all learned from her. Fruit center pieces became the norm over towering expensive arrangements. She twisted and danced til dawn. Her home was open to all. She was gracious yet private. The Main Line of Philadelhphia blood still ran in her veins. But she changed Palm Beach for the better and the lives of many. She spread happiness to all who wore her clothes. I, myself, made a point of always wearing Lilly in the brightest pinks & Kelly greens every time I had an appt. with my oncologist for 18 yrs. I still do it. It cheers me up and the other patients too. That was her greatest legacy: she made clothes we were happy in!

  17. Very nice post PP! I just add my sentiments to what you and everyone else has already mentioned. I am just so thrilled that I had a chance to meet and chat with her.

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