Thursday 11 April 2013

Lilly Pulitzer - Summer in a dress

Hang on to your hats - we are being promised warmer weather this weekend - but do we really believe that? There is fresh snow on the Jura, it's pouring with rain and thoughts of Summer are starting to obsess me (anybody else getting cabin fever?) I'm dreaming of beaches, sunshine, bright colours, sand between my toes, sun dresses, kaftans, lounging by the pool - it's torture! I saw this Ralph Lauren ad in a magazine yesterday and it was almost the last straw...

There is really only one name in the fashion world who sums up Summer in a dress and that is Lilly Pulitzer, who died earlier this week age 81. A Palm Beach socialite who was married to the publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer's grandson Peter, Lilly and her husband threw glamorous barefoot parties on their estate and became part of the gilded social circuit.

Lilly with her daughters in Palm Beach. Photo: Howell Conant

To keep busy, Lilly set up a stand selling juice from her husband's orange groves, and to avoid juice stains showing up on her clothes, she asked a local seamstress to run her up a simple shift dress made from some brightly coloured fabric remnants - and thus an empire was born.

Lilly in her shop, 1962

Lilly's dresses became a runaway hit with the Palm Beach crowd, her influence spreading across the US to the East Coast too - think Nantucket, The Hamptons, those WASP women of leisure, all tanned legs and windswept hair.  When Jackie Kennedy was photographed in a spread for Life magazine wearing a Lilly dress, they took off, to quote Lilly "like zingo" and the rest, as they say, is history.

Jackie Kennedy in Ravello, 1962. Life magazine

Jackie Kennedy wearing Lilly Pullitzer

Jackie Kennedy with JFK, John Jr and Caroline/Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton White House Photographs

"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.

Lilly photographed by Horst. P. Horst for Vogue 1975
Rockefeller, Whitney and Vanderbilt families, Palm Beach 1964. Photo: Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Durie Desloge & Wendy Vanderbilt, Palm Beach 1964. Photo: Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Vintage Lilly

"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.

Diana Ewing wearing Lilly Pullitzer printed trousers, 1972. Photo: John Shannon/Conde Nast

Whilst the brand lost its footing in the 80's, it was revived by a licensing company in 1994 and the Lilly brand is still alive and well. Naturally, Charlotte in 'Sex and the City' was a fan - it perfectly suited her preppy, clean cut look.

Photo: Ron Smits/London Ent/Splash News

When I visited the Hamptons 3 years ago, even out of season, her influence could be felt and the stores were jazzy and fun, selling that brand of beach chic we'd all like a slice of.


Photo: Tumblr

Palm Beach store. Photo via lillysnotebook

I'm a big fan of the shift dress, so I'm definitely going to be channeling Lilly this summer and upping my happiness levels.  As the Patron Saint of the printed dress said herself: "Life's a Party, Dress like it!"

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