The mother of my best friend when I was young, Mrs. Unis, was the quintessential Lilly mom. She was a Stepford wife with the perfect life – she had a husband and two daughters and lived in a gated community a street away from the beach. When I slept over at their house, I remember the breakfast portion of my stay very clearly. “Cheddar cheese on your eggs?” Mrs. Unis would ask. “Yes, please,” I would say and over my shoulder would come a plate that was perfectly laid out with eggs, bacon, and toast. The perfect portion of cheddar cheese was sprinkled on top too! She and her daughters often dressed in the same outfits – mom and mini-mom would wear matching Lilly Pulitzer or Laura Ashley dresses. She was and still is the kindest lady and when we bump into each other, she is always perfected quaffed in Lilly attire.
When Lilly Pulizter died earlier this month, I had to read about the history of the woman for many reason, not just because of Mrs. Unis. One, because I’ve always been into the lives of others (I’m a history junkie). Two, because South Florida and Lilly Pulitzer go hand in hand. Three, because Lilly Pulitzer is a somewhat rival of Urban Outfitters, where I work (both companies are based out of the Philadelphia area and when an employee leaves, “Is she going to Lilly” is asked a lot).
The life of Lilly and her rise was not unlike other designer’s. She was born in Roslyn, New York in 1931 and was the middle child, having one older and one younger sister. Rich from birth (her mother, Lillian Bostwick McKim was an heiress to the Standard Oil Fortune), Lilly’s childhood was no less than shi-shi – she attended the same school as Jacqueline Kennedy. She married Peter Pulitzer, the grandson of Joseph Pulitzer, in the early 50s and moved to Palm Beach, Florida shortly after. Peter owned several citrus groves, making the couple very well off financially. Lilly didn’t have to work but to keep her sane -she checked into rehab shortly after giving birth to her three children, citing she had no purpose in life (Stepford wife problems) – she opened a juice stand off of Fort Worth Ave. To camouflage her juice stains, she asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints. Hung behind her stand, the dresses soon outsold the juices. She partnered with Laura Robbins, a former fashion editor, ditched the juices, and starting building her brand. In the 60s, Jaqueline Kennedy was photographed on numerous occasions wearing a Lilly and Lilly herself was known to throw some pretty awesome parties, barefoot.
Lilly’s life doesn’t interest me as much as what her label, particularly her shift dresses, essentially are. And it interests me because it is something I am slowing learning and developing as a seamstress. Her shift dresses were a simple and ordinary silhouette that was made extraordinary with the print and the color. It’s the same thing that J. Crew does – mix and match ordinary pieces to create an extraordinary look – and it’s something that I have found to be the most successful approach to my designs, whether bras or dresses. This dress, which I have yet to insert the zipper and complete, is very simple. But I transformed into something whoa by using a vibrant red taffeta for the shell, a polka dot for the neck facing, using a 2 ½:1 ratio for the skirt, and a 12 inch bottom ruffle. All simple additions, nothing grand, but when combined, make a big statement. I’ve also been using this approach with my wardrobe. I used to have a closet that was full of either cheap clothes and accessories from Forever 21 or expensive garments, shoes, and handbags from Neiman Marcus. There was no middle of the road. I either bought $20 or $200 products. Recently, I have leaned toward ordinary clothes that are made well and paired correctly to create an extraordinary look. So far, this approach to designing and dressing is proving to be the right formula.
Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal published articles shortly after Lilly’s death that celebrate of her life and work. I had a hard time finding images for this post until I came across a really cool Pinterest board with lots of fun, personal images of Lilly, Lilly catalogues, and celebrities wearing Lilly attire. It was cool to watch a behind-the-scenes video from Lilly’s Summer 2012 catalog shoot because it gave me an image of Lilly today, in 2013 and not 1995. As expected, Lilly Pulitzer’s website recently published a look back her the designer’s life. What is really great about their retrospective is that they have a board where people post their memories of Lilly Pulitzer, what Lilly Pulitzer means to them, etc.