'Being happy never goes out style': Lilly Pulitzer
Updated: 2013-04-10 07:46
Fashion designer of iconic tropical print dresses dies at age 81
Lilly Pulitzer, a Palm Beach socialite turned fashion designer whose tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s and later a fashion classic, died on Sunday. She was 81.
Her death was confirmed by Gale Schiffman of Quattlebaum Funeral and Cremation Services in West Palm Beach. She did not know Pulitzer's cause of death.
Pulitzer, who married into the famous newspaper family, got her start in fashion by spilling orange juice on her clothes. A rich housewife with time to spare and a husband who owned orange groves, she opened a juice stand in 1959 and asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints that would camouflage fruit stains.
In this undated file photo, scarves design by Lilly Pulitzer are shown. Lilly Pulitzer via Associated Press
The dresses hung on a pipe behind her juice stand and soon outsold her drinks. The company's dresses, developed with the help of partner Laura Robbins, a former fashion editor, soon caught on. "Lilly has been a true inspiration to us and we will miss her," according to a statement on the Lilly Pulitzer brand Facebook page.
Jacqueline Kennedy, who attended boarding school with Pulitzer, even wore one of the sleeveless shifts in a Life magazine photo spread.
The signature Lilly palette features tongue-in-cheek jungle and floral prints in blues, pinks, light greens, yellow and orange - the colors of a Florida vacation.
"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," Pulitzer told The Associated Press in March 2009.
The line of dresses that bore her name was later expanded to swimsuits, country club attire, children's clothing, a home collection and a limited selection of menswear.
"Style isn't just about what you wear, it's about how you live," Pulitzer said in 2004. "We focus on the best, fun and happy things, and people want that. Being happy never goes out of style," she said.
But changing taste brought trouble. Pulitzer closed her original company in the mid-1980s after filing for bankruptcy protection. The label was revived about a decade later after being acquired by Sugartown Worldwide Inc. Pulitzer was only marginally involved in the new business but continued reviewing new prints from Florida.
"When Lilly started the business back in the 1960s, she targeted a young customer because she was young," the company's president, Jim Bradbeer, told the AP in 2003. "What we have done is target the daughter and granddaughter of that original customer."
Pulitzer retired from day-to-day operations in 1993, although she remained a consultant for the brand.
Sugartown Worldwide was bought by Oxford Industries in 2010. Sales of the Lilly Pulitzer brand were strong in the earnings period that ended on Feb 2. The brand's revenue increased 26 percent to $29.1 million, according to Oxford Industries' earnings report. The company said last week it planned to add four to six new stores each year for its Lilly Pulitzer brand.
Pulitzer was born Lilly McKim on Nov 10, 1931, to a wealthy family in New York state.
In 1952, she married Pete Pulitzer, the grandson of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, whose bequest to Columbia University established the Pulitzer Prize. They divorced in 1969. Her second husband, Enrique Rousseau, died in 1993.