Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Flamingo Pink and Apple Green- Lilly Pulitzer

Photo from

"They were accessible to most but really only wearable by the few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste".  I read this in the NY Times this past week regarding Lilly Pulitzer's death.  If you know the designs, depending on how you feel about them you may laugh at this statement.  I laughed.  As a designer I love the bright colors and some of the artwork.  I don't like the customer it attracts; elitist, snooty and usually bad taste.  The kind of people who buy something for the name.  The kind that like to compete with the Jones.  But enough of that, I love her story.
      Lilly came from a privileged background in NY.  While on holiday in Palm Beach she met Herbert Pulitzer Jr and eloped in 1952.  They settled among the citrus groves on the Pulitzer estate and she like most women of her time became bored.  Three kids and a nervous breakdown later, she escaped back to NY.  After a short time she did return to Palm Beach and under the advice of a doctor she found something to do, she opened up a juice stand.  Her and a friend, who was also a former editor at Harper's Bazaar complained and struggled with the constant citrus stains.  Boom, light bulb.  They made a simple shift dress that was bright and colorful with a large and loud pattern, the juice stains would blend right in.

1960's Lilly Buy this on etsy from nelsonbridge for 210.00
 What amazes me is that the dresses started selling for $22.00 each, expensive back then.  These were basic, simple and cheap construction.  Well the dresses started to be seen in magazines and Jackie Kennedy, who went to school with Lilly, was seen wearing one on vacation.  As my husband says, en fuego, they were on fire.  Everybody wanted one.

From Palm Beach Vintage
Lilly designed until 1984 and times changed, minimal looks were in and bankruptcy was sought.  The label was revived in the 90's and in 2010 Oxford Industries acquired it for $80 million.  Oxford is quite a large company with many, many labels under it's umbrella.  Lilly didn't have much of a part, she consulted occasionally.

Looking at some of the fabrics and designs, a few do remind me of the Liberty of London artwork.  How? the way the motifs blend in with another motif, such as this one.

"Sweet Corn"

Maybe not so much as motif upon motif, maybe it is the lsd look of the fabrics.  Maybe this is what happens when you are in the sun so much.
As a textile designer it is enjoyable to create such bright, colorful, whimsical and large prints.  These designs will put you in the mood for a life at the beach or a summer bbq.

Born out of necessity...I do wonder what happened to her juice stand partner Laura Robbins.  How come the dresses became known as Lillys?

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