Gilding the Lilly

For Lilly Pulitzer (, what started as a fruit juice stand in Palm Beach, Florida, became one of the true American classics. But hers was not a rags to riches story, but rather, a ‘riches’ to ‘riches’ story. According to the online biography, “As a young, sassy New York socialite, Lilly Pulitzer moved to Palm Beach as the young bride of Peter Pulitzer, grandson of Pulitzer Prize’s Joseph Pulitzer and owner of several Florida citrus groves.

Enterprising and creative, young Lilly decided to open a juice stand on Via Mizner, just off Worth Avenue in Palm Beach in 1960. With women’s liberation still in its infancy during those days, it was quite literally unheard of for a member of the social set to have a “business,” so Lilly’s move was quite novel and revolutionary at the same time.

Needless to say, the business was a big hit, with one minor problem, Lilly’s clothes were usually a mess at the end of the day after squeezing oranges, lemons, limes and pink grapefruits. To solve the pesky problem, Lilly created a dress camouflaging the stains – a comfortable sleeveless shift made of bright, colorful printed cotton in pink, yellow and orange. It was destined to become Lilly’s first “Classic Shift.” Pretty soon, Lilly was selling both fruit juice and dresses. When then First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who was an old school chum of Lilly, wore the dress in a feature at Life Magazine, the whole U.S. discovered “Lilly’s.” and the rest is history or should I say, ‘her’ story

The 1960s and 1970s became the heyday of the brand with Lilly Pulitzer freestanding stores opening in luxury resorts. In 1984, Lilly retired, and the doors of “Lilly’s” would be closed for the next two decades. In January 1993, the Lilly Pulitzer line was revived, and reintroduced to a whole new generation of devoted fans. Available in 75 signature shops and specialty stores nationwide, “Lilly’s” is continuously gaining back its popularity to rival its heydays.”

When a famed iconic American label boasting a rich heritage and celebrated clientele turns 50, you can bet there will be a golden anniversary ‘blowout’ to remember. And when the brand is synonymous with joyous, exuberant colors and patterns, so much the better, especially at a time when there is the feeling of doom and gloom thanks to the current economic disaster (ban the black already!) (Of course, there were many who found themselves in an upbeat mood yesterday, in the aftermath of our historic election and the confirmation that the first African American had in fact been elected as President of the United States).

The Lilly Pulitzer 50th Anniversary Jubilee Kick-Off Party and unveiling of Jubilee Retrospective, benefitting CARE, was held last evening at the Parsons New School for Design on 13th street and 5th Avenue. In fact, that little sliver of the city was ‘turned’ into Palm Beach for a couple of hours.

Hosted by Lilly Pulitzer, Parsons The New School of Design, Dean Tim Marshall, and Parsons Board of Governors including Sheila C. Johnson, the event was attended by a throng of loyal Lilly Pulitzer fans (including celebrated New York social fixtures such as Somers and Jonathan Farkas, Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman, Alexandra Lebenthal, Carol Mack, Hillary Dick, Cynthia and Dan Lufkin, Jeffrey Chow, Pamela Fiori, Debbie Bancroft, designers Jeffrey Banks, Adrienne Vittadini, Steven Stolman, Michelle Smith (Milly), and more.) And while there were a few who ‘stubbornly’ dressed in chic urban black, unsurprisingly, many more paid homage by wearing their festive Palm Beach Lillies (and that includes the guys). Actually, it was often hard to tell the guests from the dress forms scattered throughout the large space, which were bedecked in designs spanning the past 50 years.

The open bars were overflowing with Pink (what else?) by Yellowglen Champagne and Hendrick’s Gin, and guests mingled as they took in the gallery like display of signature textiles which were framed like precious works of art, as well as blown up articles and photos from iconic magazines like Life and Look, chronicling the meteoric rise of the company (including the famous one, which I made mention of previously, of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing her Lilly shift dress).

To mark the occasion, a limited-edition Lilly-printed Steinway & Sons piano (which was part of the live entertainment) and a limited-edition Lilly-printed Jeep Wrangler (which was parked right outside on 5th Avenue) were designed exclusively for the Jubilee.

-Marilyn Kirschner & Stacy Lomman

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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