LILLY PULITZER Her fashion mantra: Style is really all about how you live
The entertainment maven's advice is simple -- have fun and don't worry about what people think of you.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Lilly Pulitzer, who has been dressing the likes of those in Palm Beach, Fla., and Nantucket, Mass., and Savannah, Ga., in bright, cheerful clothes for 40 years, says she has trouble putting her own outfits together.
"It took a team to put me in this," says Pulitzer, looking down at her neat black pants, a blouse, cardigan and bright printed silk scarf.
"And you're lucky I have shoes on! My feet are never covered," she says with her signature hearty cackle that is at the same time sarcastic and warm.
If it were up to her, she says, she would have done this interview in the old, probably stained pink pants and knit shirt she originally showed up in.
Pulitzer was all done up on this day because Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was hosting a lunch and book-signing event in her honor later that day. "Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Entertaining" is more than a cookbook or party-planning checklist; it's a guide to help you live like Lilly: Be happy, fun-loving and don't care too much about what others think.
But, on the way to the tony store, she acknowledges that such public appearances make her uncomfortable.
"When I go into a Saks store, I go 'Aaah.' And that's a nervous 'Aaah.' I appreciate all the attention I get and the toasting but, honestly, I don't understand it," she says.
"I don't get what the Lilly cult is all about."
That modesty is what makes Lilly Pulitzer Lilly Pulitzer.
Pulitzer -- and the entire brand that bears her name -- is approachable yet aspirational, says Jay Mulvaney, the co-author of the book. She has a way of putting everyone at ease, he adds.
When he went to Pulitzer's home for the first time, Mulvaney says he had no idea what to expect. Visions of sitting by the pool, sipping exotic cocktails surrounded by tanned bodies in their best floral attire might have popped into his head.
Truth is, he was put to work, just like everyone else. He now knows an "invitation" to Pulitzer's really means come on over and be ready to spread sprigs of dill on cream cheese-and-salmon toasts.
Still, Pulitzer's parties are legendary and that's what prompted the book. Mulvaney writes that it's not uncommon to find socialites sitting next to firefighters, and everyone is having a good time.
"That's what life is all about: Let's have a party. Let's have it tonight," Pulitzer says.
Entertaining, decorating, dressing, or any other domestic art, shouldn't be a burden, Pulitzer advises.
It should be clear by now that Pulitzer, who officially has been Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau since the 1970s, is very sure about what she likes and doesn't like.
Her favorite things include lilies, color, individual style and ease. Her dislikes? Fuss, fashion and shopping.
"Style isn't just about what you wear, it's about how you live. Clothes to me are just clothes," she says. "I'm not interested in 'fashion' so it's interesting I've fallen into this particular career, especially since I can't sew, draw or paint!"
There's no doubt, though, that Lilly Pulitzer, or at least her signature preppy styles, are deeply entrenched in the fashion world. Many of New York society's "Ladies Who Lunch" wore their best Lilly dresses to that Saks luncheon as did many fashion insiders.
How she began
But the legend of Lilly certainly is unconventional by traditional style standards.
Pulitzer only lived in New York as a child, moving to Palm Beach as a young woman and, gasp, making it her year-round address.
Although she came from a privileged background, Pulitzer wanted to work. Since her husband owned orange groves, she started selling fruit to the cooks and maids of her friends, building up a business that eventually moved from the back of her station wagon to a store on Via Mizner, a popular shopping destination.
But there was one stain on the business' success: juice and pulp on her clothes.
So she bought some fabric with bold prints and asked a local dressmaker to make her a few shifts. Pulitzer reasoned that the bright and busy dresses would mask the stains.
Soon, many of Palm Beach's elite were wearing the same mess-proof dresses, and then Jacqueline Kennedy wore one.
"Jackie wore one of my dresses -- it was made from kitchen curtain material -- and people went crazy," she says in the book. "They took off like zingo. Everybody loved them, and I went into the dress business."
Name lives on
Pulitzer is involved only marginally in the business now, reviewing new prints from her home. She maintains a good relationship with Sugartown Worldwide Inc., based in King of Prussia, Pa., which bought the trademark -- and the vast Lilly Pulitzer archives -- in 1993.
"I thought Lilly (the label) was going to die a lovely death, we had a lovely run. But it never died.
"We focus on the best, fun and happy things, and people want that. Being happy never goes out of style ... and I like that people think of me as happy, but, truth be told, I do get grumpy sometimes and I do enjoy getting snarky."