Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 27 September 2013 00:00
This past April saw the passing of a Roslyn legend. On April 7, Lilly Pulitzer died in her adopted hometown of Palm Beach, FL.
Now, her career as one of America’s most influential fashion designers is the subject of a book, Lilly: Palm Beach, Tropical Glamour and the Birth of a Fashion Legend. The author, Kathryn Livingston will be the featured speaker at the next Roslyn Landmark Society meeting, one to be held Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7:45 p.m. at the Atria of Roslyn. A 6:30 p.m. special cocktail party precedes the lecture and book signing.
Landmark Society officials describe the talk as “the real story behind a very private American fashion icon—Lilly Pulitzer. Today, Lilly Pulitzer’s iconic brand of clean-cut, vibrantly printed clothes called ‘Lillys’ can be spotted everywhere. What began decades ago as an ultra-chic insider’s uniform in Palm Beach became a general fashion craze and, later, an American classic. In contrast to the high visibility of her brand, Lilly Pulitzer has largely kept her personal story to herself. Her life, told in detail here for the first time, is every bit as colorful and exciting as her designs.”
Lilly was born in Roslyn in 1931 to a prominent family of New York socialites. She attended the prestigious Chapin School in New York City, where one of her classmates was Jacqueline Bouvier. That friendship with the future First Lady would later prove most advantageous to Lilly’s career.
Even though Lilly was born into a world of privilege, she had a strong independent streak. After leaving college, she worked as a midwife assistant in West Virginia and later as a volunteer at the Veterans Hospital in The Bronx. In 1950, she eloped to Palm Beach with Peter Pulitzer, Jr., grandson of the famed publisher Joseph Pulitzer, of whom the much sought-after annual literary awards are named.
In Florida, Pulitzer owned citrus grove property near Palm Beach. Lilly, for her part, opened a juice stand in that prosperous South Florida city. From there, Lilly’s career took off accidentally—literally in this case. According to a 1968 article in Sports Illustrated, Lilly would accidentally spill squeezed orange juice on her dress. To hide the stains, she created a sleeveless shift dress made of bright colors. Her new wardrobe began attracting customers. Soon, she began designing and selling the popular dress. In time, clothing sales outstripped those of her orange juice product.
In 1959, Lilly formed her own clothing company, Lilly Pulitzer, Inc. Her customers included members of such famous New York families as the Whitney’s, the Vanderbilt’s and the Rockefeller’s. But her biggest break came when her old classmate, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, wore one of Lilly’s designs for a Life magazine photo shoot. Jacqueline’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, also wore Lilly’s designs and immediately, women across the country began flocking to Lilly’s unique patterns, eventually earning their creator the title as the “Queen of Prep.” Indeed, when Lisa Birnbach published her popular guides to “preppy” culture: The Official Preppy Handbook and True Prep: It’s A Whole New Old World, she listed Lilly’s clothing as virtually mandatory for any aspiring preppy women.
In 1984, Lilly closed down her own company. Nearly 10 years later, however, in 1993, Sugartown Worldwide, Inc. purchased the rights to her brands of clothing. Today, there are 75 Lilly Pulitzer Signature Stores across America.
Meanwhile, Lily remained busy in her final decades, working as a creative consultant for Sugartown and publishing two lifestyle books, Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Entertaining and Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Holidays. She also published two desk calendar volumes, Essentially Lilly 2005 Social Butterfly Engagement Calendar and Essentially Lilly 2006 Party Animal Engagement Calendar. Finally in her later years, Lilly’s designs were the subject of an exhibit at
The Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion in nearby Boynton Beach, FL. Now, a new biography is certain to introduce her work to a new generation of fashioned-minded women.
The Atria of Roslyn is located at 99 Landing Rd. There is free admission for both the party and lecture. A cash bar is available. Call 625-4363 for more information.