MIAMI – Lilly Pulitzer, a Palm Beach socialite turned designer whose tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s and later a fashion classic, died Sunday. She was 81.
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 prints that would camouflage fruit stains.
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,” said 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 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 said in March 2009.
The line of dresses that bore her name was later expanded to swimsuits, country club attire, children’s clothing and a home collection.
“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.
Pulitzer closed her original company in the mid-1980s after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The label was revived about 10 years later, with Pulitzer minimally involved but still reviewing prints.
Pulitzer 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.
Pulitzer, who was known for hosting parties barefoot at her Palm Beach house, also published two guides to entertaining.
“That’s what life is all about: Let’s have a party. Let’s have it tonight,” she said.