A Colorful Spring: The Legendary Blooms and Prints of Lilly Pulitzer
With the arrival of spring, so orchestrates the season’s fashion palate feting the designs of floral prints and bright colors – inspired, of course, by nature’s ability to simply rejuvenate and renew. Embracing this very notion, Lilly Pulitzer has for more than 50 years delighted wardrobes and fashion-minded clients with her bold, effervescent prints and fashion sense. The iconic brand has since expanded its clothing collections for women, men and children, to also include personal accessories, furniture and bedding, stationary and gifts, fragrances, as well as the recent launch of a preppy bridal selection.
From splashes of hot pinks, greens and blues, to smashing floral patterns and lace overlays, Lilly Pulitzer celebrates life as art with audacious and forward-thinking designs; as a result, she challenges us not only to be bold in our attire, but to savor the everyday joys and comforts of living. Maybe that is why her story feels so much like a movie, discovering not only her early beginnings in the fashion industry, but the very passion and energy that has remained at the forefront of the brand’s forward motion. An inspiring tale worth sharing, one might be surprised by this inside look at Lilly Pulitzer’s life in review.
A socialite from New York, it is only befitting that Lilly Lee — her nickname — was destined to become an icon in the industry. In 1951, Lilly eloped and headed south to Palm Beach, Florida with her husband, Peter Pulitzer – the grandson of Joseph Pulitzer Publishing. Owning several orange grove stands, Lilly rightfully opened a juice stand on Via Mizner, now considered historic Palm Beach. While fresh squeezed juice seemed like a natural fit, it was the orange juice stains in her clothing that sparked an idea; a sleeveless dress with bright colorful patterns to conceal the stains was thus created. What turned out to be a temporary fix to ‘orange juiced’ clothing resulted in the beginnings of Lilly Pulitzer’s first fashion design, the “Classic Shift Dress.” As the legend goes, Lilly’s juice clientele took notice of her new prints, complimenting and inquiring about her daily attire; and after selling a few dresses, her juice-making days soon came to an end. Lilly then began focusing on designing and selling her bold, beautiful clothing line to the public.
Featured in Life Magazine, First Lady Jackie Kennedy – a former classmate of Lilly’s – was one of the first celebrities to wear the ‘Classic Shift Dress’; the very dress that had originally concealed orange juice stains, had become a fashion sensation. While our muse can sometimes be hidden by circumstance and time, Lilly had the fortitude and creativity to make her mark, without wavering or compromising her bold colorful designs.
Over the course of the next three decades, Lilly Pulitzer’s popularity and repertoire within the industry was on the rise; even noted in the 1980 “Official Preppy Handbook,” featuring a “Lilly Dress” as a must-have. One can only imagine how clients and the world of fashion reacted when Lilly Pulitzer decided to retire and shut down her entire clothing operation in 1984. After years of cheering closets and inspiring us with color, the fashion icon was ready for a Florida retreat in Palm Beach with her family. But the story doesn’t end there.
Lucky for us, Lilly decided to sell her trademark in 1993; and at a trade-show, two businessmen from Pennsylvania — Scott Beaumont and James Bradbeer Jr. — said they had that “A-ha! Moment,” when they saw the trademark for sale. They decided to branch off from their current venture with another retail store and re-launch the famous clothing line on their own; currently accounting for more than 75 Signature stores nationwide. Lilly Pulitzer has remained a brand consultant to this today.
No one combines flowers, fashion, and the Florida lifestyle better than Lilly Pulitzer. This spring, the blossoming icon continues a yearlong celebration of ‘Lilly Loves the Arts’; after all, Lilly Pulitzer’s hand-designed prints are themselves works of art. But this season, the print team comprised of Lilly artists gives a nod of appreciation to various forms of fine art. The results are a beautiful array of vibrant colorful prints reflecting influence from pop art to impressionism, and even block printing.
A sun-kissed moment can happen for all of us, just as it did for Lilly Pulitzer. If it seems too dreamy for this day and age, Southern California residents can at least benefit by wearing her classic designs year-round – a perfect compliment to our casual coastal lifestyle and eternal sunshine.
Your idyllic colors leave us feeling lovely in the Golden State – Thanks, Lilly Pulitzer.
Written by Machel Shull. This story orignially appeared Here as a Fashion Feature Cover story.