Fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer died at her home Sunday at the age of 81, according to Quattlebaum Funeral and Cremation Services.
Lilly Pulitzer’s tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s when then-first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who attended boarding school with Pulitzer, wore one of the sleeveless shifts in a Life magazine photo spread.
The colorful revolution came as fashion shed its reliance on neutrals, and Lilly Pulitzer’s stuff was almost the housewife version of the more youthful mod look that was migrating from London.
To this day, the Lilly Pulitzer dress remains a popular, if not a necessary, addition to any woman’s closet.
“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,” she told The Associated Press in March 2009.
Lilly Pulitzer’s dresses hung behind her juice stand and soon outsold her drinks.
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.
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”.
But changing taste brought trouble. Lilly Pulitzer closed her original company in the mid-1980s after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The label was revived about a decade later after being acquired by Pennsylvania-based Sugartown Worldwide Inc. Lilly Pulitzer was only marginally involved in the new business but continued reviewing new prints from Florida.
Lilly Pulitzer retired from day-to-day operations in 1993, although she remained a consultant and a muse for the brand.
Sugartown Worldwide was bought by Atlanta-based Oxford Industries in 2010.
Sales of the Lilly Pulitzer brand were strong in the earnings period that ended February 2.
The brand’s revenue increased 26% 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 Lily Pulitzer brand.
Lilly Pulitzer was born Lilly McKim on November 10, 1931, to a wealthy family in Roslyn, New York.
In 1952, she married Pete Pulitzer, the grandson of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, whose bequest to Columbia University established the Pulitzer Prize.
Lilly Pulitzer had three children in quick succession.
The Pulitzers divorced in 1969. Lilly Pulitzer’s second husband, Enrique Rousseau, died in 1993. She also had three grandchildren.