It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to wear a signature Lilly Pulitzer shift. Her iconic prints can be eye searing at times, but they are always joyous, lively and fun loving. Neon pinks, greens and aquas proudly announce that an item is a Lilly, reflecting an idealised life in the sun; her unparalleled florals literally bring the sun into being. The fabrics and simple shapes are the stuff of bright sunny day dreams. Fruits, birds, and fantasy sea and land creatures figure in the same boisterous mix. The impression of swirling brilliant colours is the glorious result.
Sixty years ago, socialite and orange grove owner Lilly Pulitzer whipped up some colourful shifts to hide orange juice stains at the family Palm Beach juice stand. Customers loved the dresses and soon she was making and marketing a line in prints based on eye popping abstract botanicals in Florida-inspired colours, Pulitzer’s “happy” colours.
The first dress she made for a client was fashioned from kitchen curtain fabric. That client was school chum Jacqueline Kennedy.
The line took off as society women cottoned to the look, from Jackie and her daughter Caroline, Rose and Ethel Kennedy, members of the Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Whitney families to celebrities Brooke Shields, Siri Cruise and Serena Williams. Celebs love Lilly: Eva Longoria, Kristin Davis wear the clothes Laura Jacobs described as having “Puritan ethics of balance and value” in Vanity Fair in 2003. And ladies, men wear Lilly golf and resort wear in the same bold prints.
Sororities traditionally look to Lilly for their own imprints, each house having its own pattern. But Lilly isn’t just for preppy kids. It’s a look that can be embraced by all ages with confidence and a sense of humour. The cut and fit is top notch and while they look and feel high end, the dresses are affordable, usually between $100 and $400. Estee Lauder has offered Lilly Pulitzer cosmetic cases for decades. Lilly also makes trademark trousers, tops, skirts, jewelry, scarves and accessories as well as home décor with the same glorious joie-de-vivre.
Ever the queen of the pink and green, Pulitzer’s preppy vision is as alive today as it was in 1960. In 1984 Pulitzer was discouraged by what she saw in fashion magazines and realized her unique vision was not reflected so she closed the line and retired. Ten years later a manufacturer found her and they re-launched the line; it’s doing just fine, thank you.
Pulitzer died in 2013 at the age of 81, leaving behind an enviable lifestyle legacy. She was a pioneer, building a business and sticking to her vision, which she further outlined in two books Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Entertaining and Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Holidays. Pulitzer certainly changed the landscape of women’s wear; there is nothing like a little Lilly.