Lilly Pulitzer was an American designer and socialite who became famous for her dresses with unmistakable jungle and floral fantasies and colorful motives. Inspired by the sunny Palm Beach lifestyle, her brand has become a huge resort wear company with 60 company-operated retail stores and more than 70 signature stores throughout the United States.
Lilly McKim was born in 1931 to a wealthy family in Roslyn, NY. In 1952 she married Peter Pulitzer, the grandson of Joseph Pulitzer (the one who established the Pulitzer Prize). Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Palm Beach, Florida. Lilly and Peter had three children and later divorced in 1969. That same year, Lilly married again with Cuban rancher and lawyer Enrique Rousseau.
The history of the famous Floridian brand dates back to the late 1950s, when Lilly was still married to Peter. Her husband owned several citrus groves, and Lilly – a housewife with plenty of time to spare – wanted to open a business of her own. She came up with the idea of a juice bar in Palm Beach, where she sold oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit beverages. And it’s exactly by spilling orange and lime juice on her clothes that Lilly found inspiration for her peculiar clothes style. She asked her seamstress to make dresses in colorful prints to camouflage fruit stains. The result was a sleeveless dress with bright pink, green, yellow, and orange prints. It did not take too much time for her dresses to become more popular than her juices. Grasping the potential of her dresses, she founded a company with the help of fashion editor Laura Robbinson. The comfortable and colorful garments immediately gained popularity among members of high society. When first lady Jackie Kennedy, a former Miss Porter’s classmate of Pulitzer, wore one of Lilly’s sleeveless clothes for a Life Magazine article, sales drastically increased.
But the brand’s success declined in the 1980s, when Lilly had to close her original company after filing for bankruptcy protection. Ten years later, the brand was acquired by Scott A. Beaumont and James B. Bradbeer Jr., the founders of Pennsylvania-based Sugartown Worldwide Inc. Lilly Pulitzer remained on as a creative consultant. The new management team added new items to the portfolio, including bedding, mens wear, and stationery. In 2010, Sugartown Worldwide was bought by Oxford Industries and sales remained strong.
Lilly died in 2013 at the age of 81 in Palm Beach. But the success of her “Lillys” did not die with her and the brand continued to innovate and grow.
In 2019, Lilly Pulitzer company partnered with the official Destination Marketing Organization of Palm Beach (Discover The Palm Beaches) to attract travelers. The result was the creation of a tourist guide to the Palm Beaches including purchasable style recommendations from Lilly Pulitzer. The guide highlights ideas for Lilly Pulitzer-inspired things to do in The Palm Beaches. To differentiate the experiences available in the Floridian destination, four types of travel were created: The Jetsetter (stylish and cultured), The Beach Lover (relaxed and casual), The Luxe Traveler (elegant and refined), and The Adventurer (active and ambitious).
Today, the Lilly Pulitzer brand remains faithful to the original chic resort style and has become a symbol of Palm Beach lifestyle.