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Lilly Pulitzer, known for her bold designs, dies at 81

Meredith Dobes

Lily Pulitzer was known for her bold, patterned dress designs.

Lilly Pulitzer, iconic fashion designer, died Sunday in Palm Beach, Florida at the age of 81, according to her company’s Facebook page.

Pulitzer was schoolmates with Jacqueline Kennedy, and while Kennedy was first lady, she wore one of Pulitzer’s designs, a dress made from kitchen curtain material.

“They took off like zingo,” Pulitzer wrote in her book, “Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Entertaining.” “Everybody loved them, and I went into the dress business.”

According to a Sports Illustrated report from 1968, Pulitzer began designing dresses when she began working at an orange juice stand, selling the produce from her husband’s citrus groves. Pulitzer designed shifts to work in, and customers were interested in buying her designs.

She started her line by designing casual dresses called “Lillys,” then by expanding to girls’ and men’s clothing. Her dresses featured bright colors and often tropical patterns.

Pulitzer’s dresses were made to be worn by anyone, but mostly affluent women wore them, or, as the New York Times puts it, “the few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste.”

In the 1960s and 1970s Pulitzer’s company was worth more than $15 million. It now has annual net sales of over $100 million.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 2009, Pulitzer said, “I designed collections around whatever struck my fancy … fruits, vegetables, politics or peacocks. It was a total change of life for me, but it made people happy.”

Pulitzer was married twice. She spent her life after her retirement in Palm Beach. Details about her death have not been released, other than that she was surrounded by her family when she passed.

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