The Lilly Legacy

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{AP photo}

The death of designer Lilly Pulitzer on Sunday made me pause for a moment, in part because I realized that I’d always thought of Lilly Pulitzer as a brand rather than a person–and a brand so associated with in-your-face preppiness that I never thought of myself as ever wanting to wear it (she was actually nicknamed “The Queen of Prep”). But then about two months ago I was shopping with two friends (who both adore preppy clothing) and whaddaya know, I completely feel in love with a piece from the current line: the Malibu Blazer (in “Flutter Chin Chin Blue”).

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The fabric itself is a wonderful weight, with just-right structure for a summer jacket–and done in the most fantastic, Palm-Beach-in-the-forties print. There’s a darling peplum in the back and the fit is perfect (high-cut armholes: ladies, settle for nothing else if you want to avoid looking shlubby).

Lilly! I am hooked. At least on the jacket, anyway.

So who was she?

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Lillian Pulitzer Rousseau might surprise you. She left her fancy finishing school to be a midwife assistant in West Virginia and to volunteer at a Veterans Hospital in the Bronx. She eloped and moved to Palm Beach. She started a juice stand, and designed her first dress in a busy floral print to hide juice stains. She was messy!

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A line of Lilly interior fabrics for Lee Jofa reveals the playful secret of Lilly fabrics, interior and otherwise: each has the word “Lilly” hidden in the pattern (though let’s not forget, that was the original gimmick of Al Hirschfeld). Jackie Kennedy wore her stuff. Generations and generations of women have followed suit. Locally, we have a brand-new Lilly flagship, in Tysons Galleria, that is a riotous celebration of her zany, tastful/tacky prints. Her legacy will endure. Heck, it seems I’ve been wood by her come-on-get-happy prints.

She liked to host parties barefoot.

Her funeral is today. Today, my grandfather, who taught me to spot the Ninas in Al Hirschfeld’s drawings, among many other things, would have turned 96 today. Lilly Pulitzer once said: “That’s what life is all about: Let’s have a party. Let’s have it tonight.” I know my grandfather would have agreed.

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