'Queen of Prep' Lilly Pulitzer Dies at 81

(LillyPulitzer.com)

Socialite fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau, who was famous for her kooky floral-meets-jungle prints, passed away this Sunday in her Florida Home.

From her Facebook page:

Early this morning, Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau passed away peacefully in Palm Beach, surrounded by family and loved ones. Lilly has been a true inspiration to us and we will miss her.

In the days and weeks ahead we will celebrate all that Lilly meant to us. Lilly was a true original who has brought together generations through her bright and happy mark on the world.

Pulitzer Rousseau's fashion empire began almost by accident. After entering a rough patch in her marriage to Herbert Pulitzer Jr., a handsome grandson of the publisher Joseph Pulitzer, she suffered a nervous collapse. “I went crazy. I was a namby-pamby; people always made decisions for me. The doctor said I should find something to do," she told People magazine in 1982.

That "something" was opening a roadside stand that sold juice made from the fruit that grew in her husband's citrus groves. She designed comfortable outfits (printed with enough colors to conceal juice stains!) to wear while manning the counter, and her customers began asking to buy them off her back. So she had her seamstress whip up a few more, and her $22 shifts, which hung on a pipe in her stand, soon began to outsell her drinks.

Lilly's line really took off when Jacqueline Kennedy, who attended boarding school with Pulitzer Rousseau, wore one of the sleeveless dresses in a 1962 Life magazine photo spread. “It was made from kitchen curtain material and people went crazy. It took off like zingo,” the designer said. Soon, her dresses were everywhere — not just in Palm Beach circles — and her flamboyant prints (let's face it, it takes some confidence to wear a strapless lime and coral dress adorned with zebras and hibiscus flowers) remain popular in preppy pockets of New England, and interestingly, Southern sororities (Lilly has a special line of patterns with hidden Greek letters) to this day.

As for her personal life, the designer eventually divorced Herbert Pulitzer and married Enrique Rousseau, who had worked for her first husband and then a hotel, in 1969. Enrique died from cancer in 1993, and she never married again. She leaves behind three children from her first marriage, Liza, Minnie and Peter.

"Style isn't just about what you wear, it's about how you live," Pulitzer told the Associated Press in 2004. "We focus on the best, fun and happy things, and people want that. Being happy never goes out of style."
(ImaxTree)

R.I.P., Lilly. If there's an afterlife, may it be filled with lavender peacocks frolicking in turquoise sunflower groves.

I'm the Senior Associate Editor at StyleBistro. Follow me: Google
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