Fashion Designer Lilly Pulitzer Dies at 81

Her signature colorful frocks were born at a juice stand
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 7, 2013 1:04 PM CDT
Fashion Designer Lilly Pulitzer Dies at 81
In this March 16, 1965 file photo, Palm Beach the fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer, wears her own design and creation of the Lilly shift, in Palm Beach, Fla. Pulitzer died in Florida at 81.   (Robert H. Houston)

Lilly Pulitzer, a Palm Beach socialite turned designer whose tropical print dresses became a sensation in the 1960s and later a fashion classic, died today. 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 kill and a husband who owned orange groves, she opened a juice stand in 1959, and asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints that would camouflage fruit stains. The dresses hung on a pipe behind her juice stand and soon outsold her drinks; Jacqueline Kennedy, a schoolmate, even wore one in a Life magazine photo spread.

The signature Lilly palette features tongue-in-cheek 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 told the AP in 2009. "We focus on the best, fun and happy things, and people want that. Being happy never goes out of style." In 1952, she married Pete Pulitzer, the grandson of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. They divorced in 1969. Pulitzer, who was known for hosting parties barefoot at her Palm Beach home, 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. (Read more Lilly Pulitzer stories.)

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