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Pulitzer was born Lillian McKim to a socialite family in Roslyn, New York, in 1931; Lilly was her nickname among her friends. In 1949, she graduated from Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. Shortly after graduating, she eloped with Peter Pulitzer, the grandson of publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Together, they settled in Palm Beach, Florida, where they lived opulently. Peter owned several Florida citrus groves, and with produce from the groves Lilly opened a juice stand on Via Mizner, just off Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
In the course of working at the juice stand, Lilly found that squeezing juice made a mess of her clothes. Seeking to camouflage the juice stains, Lilly asked her dressmaker to design a sleeveless shift dress made of bright, colorful printed cotton. Lilly loved the dress that was produced for her, and it would later become her "Classic Shift Dress."
Lilly quickly found that customers loved her dress, and so she had her dressmaker produce more in order to sell at her juice stand. Soon, however, she was selling more dresses than juice, so she decided to stop selling juice and instead focus on designing and selling what had become known as her "Lillys." Jackie Kennedy, then the First Lady, who Lilly knew from Miss Porter's, was one of the first celebrities to sport Lilly's shift dress, and was featured in Life Magazine wearing one. Lilly's shift dresses suddenly became a fashion sensation.
In 1969, Lilly and Peter were divorced. She married Enrique Rousseau shortly thereafter. Although she legally changed her name to "Lillian McKim Rousseau", her clothing company continued to operate under the "Lilly Pulitzer" label with amazing success. Lilly continued to enjoy Palm Beach life, watching her children grow up and seeing her grand children grow too. Sadly, Enrique passed away from cancer in 1993 just as the fashion label was revived.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Lilly's bright, colorful, well-made clothes were very popular and continued to be high-prized items. In 1980, Lisa Birnbach's bestselling tongue-in-cheek "guide" The Official Preppy Handbook featured a golf skirt and "Lilly beach dress" as must-have items for "preppy" women. Arguably, Lilly Pulitzer's clothing was at the height of its original popularity in the early 1980s. In 1984, however, Lilly retired so as to spend time with her grandchildren, and closed down her entire clothing operation.
Thus, it came as a surprise to the fashion world when in January 1993 Lilly Pulitzer allowed her line to be revived; Lilly is not involved in the day administration of the company, but she maintains a creative consultant roll, approving new designs, fabrics, and collections. Good sales have inspired branching out into other product lines. The company also produces Lilly bedding, mens clothing, maternity clothes, jewelry, and accessories. Today, the company maintains 77 Lilly Pulitzer boutiques, several company-owned retail stores, and sells in major department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales.
Recently, she published several coffee table books with author Jay Mulvaney about the history of Lilly fashion and her company, along with lifestyle cues and recipes. Lilly has also published two successful desk calendar books. She still lives in her "Jungle" in Palm Beach, enjoying time spent with her 7 grandchildren, her extended family of friends, and consulting with the Lilly Company on new product lines and designs.
Designer Definition (from U.S Department of Labor)