Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lilly Pulitzer - Fashioning a trend with tropical colors

Sign at Via Mizner arcade, former site of
Pulitzer Groves, where Lilly sold her first shifts 
By Jane Feehan

Lilly Pulitzer died in 2013. When I first heard the breaking local news without the details, I thought she must have been in her 90s.  For most of my life Lilly Pulitzer has been a household name – at least in my house. But she was 81, which made her very young when I first heard of her. I did a little digging in news archives to see how she got her start in the fashion industry with her signature color-splashed tropical clothes.

Lilly was the daughter of Lillian (an heir to the Standard Oil fortune) and Robert McKim. They divorced when Lilly was a child. Lillian then married Ogden Phipps. The Phipps family has been long associated with Florida real estate, thoroughbred racing, philanthropy, the Bessemer Trust and Andrew Carnegie. Daughter Lilly married publishing magnate Herbert (Peter) Pulitzer, grandson of the famed Joseph Pulitzer, in 1950. The couple wintered in Palm Beach.

At the beginning of the Palm Beach winter season in 1962, a Palm Beach Post story (Nov. 18) mentioned shifts were all the rage. I remember them - straight lined, generally sleeveless dresses; my mother had a few in her closet.

“It all started here last spring, when Lilly Pulitzer designed a brief and comfortable little shift for her personal wardrobe,” wrote the reporter. “Immediately her friends wanted a “Lillie [Lilly] shift so she made a few dozen and sold them at the Via Mizner shop of Pulitzer Groves.”
Via Mizner arcade, former site of
Pulitzer Groves

Husband Peter* owned thousands of acres of citrus groves in Florida. Some say Lilly made her first shift of colorful fabric to hide the fruit juice stains she acquired working at the store.  According to the reporter, her dresses made the cover of at least two national magazines. Lilly Pulitzer contributed to establishing Palm Beach as a trend setter for leisure clothes. Her use of color influenced the fashion industry for years. Palm Beach stands a bit dimmer with her departure.
*Lilly and Peter Pulitzer were divorced in the late 1960s. Peter married the much younger Roxanne during the 1970s. Their divorce and custody fight for their twins in the early 1980s was the sordid stuff of tabloids and television for months. Roxanne's settlement was meager. But the tables turned. Forbes Magazine  reported in 2011 that Roxanne’s fifth husband, Tim Boberg, held the mortgage on Pulitzer’s failing citrus growing business. For more on this fascinating story, see:

Tags: Lilly Pulitzer, Palm Beach history, Peter Pulitzer, Florida film research, historical researcher 

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