* You see them every summer: floridly bright and dazzlingly patterned shifts worn by country club ladies and girls of all ages. Back in style again (though in some quarters they never went out), Lilly Pulitzer dresses rank among the icons of 20th century American fashion. Their eponymous creator was a native of the upper crust — born Lillian Lee McKim, she went to Chapin as a classmate of Jacqueline Bouvier's — and her marriage to Peter Pulitzer was vaguely scandalous because of his Jewish roots and the young couple’s plan to live in Florida (Lilly was "Palm Beach royalty" via her stepfather, Ogden Phipps) year-round. Her dress business began in a juice stand (the Pulitzers owned groves); before long, the Lilly, an easy-to-wear shift in colorful cotton, became more popular than the juices.
Livingston, a journalist covering the resort beat, tells Pulitzer's story with admiration and a keen eye for luxury. Relentlessly peppy and fueled by gossip, the book can read like a particularly long society-page dispatch — or a publicity notice for the clothing brand — but at times it's great fun, as when Pulitzer responds to a retailer asking her to make fall or winter clothing: "Oh, but you don't understand, it’s always summer somewhere." (Boston Globe
, December 2012)
Some women brood on their dullness like Chekhov characters staring out windows. What's interesting about Lilly Pulitzer is that she confesses it cheerfully and by so doing persuades us that it might not be true. The case for it can be made, however—she was never known for working the fashion shows with a chrome-steel attitude or swanning around with Paris couturiers. Winter and summer, she liked being in Palm Beach, Fla., where her clothing was a sort of folk art of the very rich, summer clothes for a world where, as she said, "it's always summer somewhere."
Now, at 80, a Palm Beach homebody, she is the subject of a short, airy biography by Kathryn Livingston, "Lilly: Palm Beach, Tropical Glamour, and the Birth of a Fashion Legend."
To my surprise, I learned that I kind of like her. Surprise because I grew up with my nose pressed to the window of Lilly Land, but I was looking out, not in, seeking freedom from Connecticut cocktail hours, rich people complaining that they were broke ("totally stoners"), mixed doubles in tennis, and porch parties where women wore hair pulled back as tight as the silk on Christmas-tree balls. Once in a while a man would wear a necktie as a belt, a Brooks Brothers buccaneer. (Wall Street Journal, December 2012)