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Lilly Pulitzer’s textile designs, it’s safe to say, were not for everyone. The fashion iconoclast, who died this week, presided over an empire of flowery motifs that, even in retrospect, pale beside the visual panache of fellow 60’s and 70’s brands like Marimekko and Missoni. Pulitzer creations weren’t for the fashion-forward 60’s Mod set, enamored of psychedelic graphics and a break with tradition—but, rather, tailored for the Palm Beach leisure class, whose feet, like their lifestyles, were firmly planted in the past.
But there always was plenty to admire about Pulitzer—not the least of which is that, as socialites of her era languidly basked in their roles as daughters and wives of rich men, she went about the business of actually making something of her very own. That thing was a fashion brand distinguished as much by its accessibility as its garish colors—plain cotton frocks in silhouettes simple enough to be sewn at home—not because it needed to be, but because she saw no good reason for it to be otherwise.
And that modesty, ultimately, distinguishes Pulitzer from the wildly successful female fashion names who have followed in her path. She created an admirable business with neither a calculated plan for turning fashion on its ear, nor illusions about her own talent. “I designed collections around whatever struck my fancy…fruits, vegetables, politics or peacocks,” she said in 2009. “It was a total change of life for me, but it made people happy.”
Photos: Lilly Pulitzer