This week, the world lost one of its fashion-world icons – Lilly Pulitzer.
You may not know a lot about Lilly, but I dare you to find one woman who has never worn one of her original designs – the shift dress.
The story behind the dress is amusing at the least. When Lilly was 21, she eloped with Peter Pulitzer, and they left the hustle and bustle of New York City for the orange groves of Palm Beach, Florida. The industrious young woman opened her own orange stand and created a shift dress that would disguise the orange juice stains on her clothing.
This practical creation became a sensation when one of Lilly’s schoolmates, Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was photographed on vacation in one of Lilly’s dresses. “Jackie wore one of my dresses – it was made from kitchen curtain material – and people went crazy. They took off like zingo. Everybody loved them, and I went into the dress business.” (from Essentially Lily: A Guide to Colorful Entertaining)
Lilly expanded her business from that little dress to an explosion of color and patterns that would make her world-renowned for fabric design. But in addition to her business acumen, she was known to be extremely creative and described as plucky.
In 1964, on the way back from a business meeting with her partner, Laura Robbins, their small plane went down over shark-infested waters. Stranded on the wing of the plane hoping to be rescued, Laura took off her Lilly dress and waved it until rescuers saw her.
When asked if the bright print of the dress was the reason for the rescue, Lilly said, “No. A woman’s bosom will get them every time.”