Born Lilly McKim on Nov. 10, 1931, in Roslyn, New York, Lilly married Pete Pulitzer, the grandson of Joseph Pulitzer (after whom the Pulitzer Prize is named), in 1952.
The couple moved to Palm Beach, Florida where her husband owned orange groves. In the late 1950s, Lilly began to operate an orange juice stand on the edge of their property, but squeezing orange juice was a messy task that always stained her clothes. She designed a sleeveless shift made from a bright, colourful cotton print that disguised juice stains and the dress proved so popular with customers that she began to make more dresses to sell at the stand. In 1959 Lilly decided to focus on the dresses and went into business with Laura Robbins, a former fashion editor.
Lilly Pulitzer dresses were identifiable by their leafy, tropical patterns and palette of bright fruity pastel colours – the colours of Florida. Pulitzer had her dresses made in Miami from fabrics printed by the Key West Hand Print Fabrics company in Key West. ‘Lilly Pulitzers’, as they became known, were popular with women of all ages, from Jacqueline Kennedy to Rose Kennedy, and were especially popular with the elite crowd of Palm Beach.
The line expanded to include swimwear, blouses, children’s clothes, and even menswear, but while her business prospered her marriage did not, and Lilly divorced Pete in 1969. She then married Enrique Rousseau, who died in 1993.
Sales slumped in 1984 when tastes for ‘Florida style’ shifted from Palm Beach to Miami Vice. Lilly filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed her clothing business, but in 1993, the company was revived when the rights to the brand were purchased by Sugartown Worldwide, Inc. and Lilly stayed on as a creative consultant.
Lilly Pulitzer-Rousseau died at the age of 81 on April 7, 2013