“Lilly has been a true inspiration to us and we will miss her,” the statement said. “In the days and weeks ahead we will celebrate all that Lilly meant to us. Lilly was a true original who has brought together generations through her bright and happy mark on the world.”
Lilly Pulitzer, a socialite turned fashion designer whose tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s and later a fashion mainstay
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 Palm Beach juice stand in 1959 and asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints that would camouflage fruit stains.
In 1950, when Mrs. Rousseau was 19, she eloped with Peter Pulitzer to Palm Beach. She married Enrique Rousseau shortly after her divorce from Pulitzer in 1969. Her career sprang from her husband Peter’s citrus groves, Sports Illustrated reported in 1968.
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. Mrs. Rousseau, who never trained as a designer, could not recall the precise year that she first created the Lilly signature shift, designed as a uniform for her and those who worked at the juice stand she operated in Via Mizner.
She opened an orange juice stand in Palm Beach, and designed colorful cotton shirts for herself to work in comfortably. Soon, customers wanted to buy her shirts as well as the juice. The company’s garments, developed with the help of partner Laura Robbins, a former fashion editor, soon caught on. Simple sleeveless shifts that were fully lined and zipped up the back.
“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 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.”
In 1966, The Washington Post reported that the dresses were “so popular that at the Southampton Lilly shop on Job’s Lane they are proudly put in clear plastic bags tied gaily with ribbons so that all the world may see the Lilly of your choice. It’s like carrying your own racing colors or flying a yacht flag for identification.”
In 1993, the brand was relaunched by a Pennsylvania company, Sugartown Worldwide, which eventually changed its name to Lilly Pulitzer. In 2010, the brand was acquired by Oxford Industries, a Georgia fashion company. Mrs. Rousseau continued until recently to work with the companies as an adviser and as the name and face behind the brand.
Pulitzer, who was known for hosting parties barefoot at her Palm Beach home, also published two guides to entertaining.
“I don’t know how to explain what it was like to run my business, the joy of every day,” she told Vanity Fair magazine in a story in 2003. “I got a kick every time I went into the shipping department. … I loved seeing (the dresses) going out the door. I loved them selling in the shop. I liked them on the body. Everything. There’s no explaining the fun I had.”
“She had a gift of making people, just about everybody she met, feel loved,” Minnie said. “Before she died, she was able to see all her grandchildren, who meant the world to her, and was surrounded by her peeps and her pussycats. It was a beautiful, peaceful time. She was our rock, always there, and our best friend.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea.
Lilly Pulitzer Retrospective