A Tribute to Lilly Pulitzer (1931-2013)

This is not my typical blog post about quick¸ healthy recipes, a great new wine to try or what to grow in your garden.  This post is about a woman who passed away last week, and although I never met her, she had a great impact on my life.  This blog post is about Lilly Pulitzer.
Last Sunday afternoon I was on my way to a tea at my dear friend’s house. I had on one of my favorite Lilly Pulitzer dresses and carrying the straw Lilly purse given to me by Running Daddy.  All of a sudden my pink iPhone started buzzing with messages from friends that Lilly Pulitzer had died at age 81. 
People who know me know I love Lilly Pulitzer.  I have been wearing Lilly long before many in my generation.  I purchased my first Lilly skirt in 1998 in the Dotty Dolphin pattern and it has been my signature style ever since. 
In discussing Lilly’s passing, I told Running Daddy that some of the best days of my life have included Lilly Pulitzer.  I left our wedding reception in a yellow Lilly dress with blue rhinoceroses, monkeys and lions on it and the day the Sweet Boy came home from the hospital I was carrying my new Lilly diaper bag.  I own casual Lilly, dressy Lilly, work Lilly (yes there can be such a thing), I own Lilly bathing suits, sheets,  a picnic basket, wine glasses, a gardening bag, even pajamas and that is just the beginning.  I have joked that if Lilly made underwear…I would buy it. It’s not just about the clothes she helped design, (ok a lot of it is about the clothes) my devotion to Lilly Pulitzer is also about how she embraced life and treated those around her.  In many ways, Lilly is part of the reason why I created this blog.  I want people to be able to create beautiful easy meals, find a great new wine, and grow a beautiful garden to share with the ones you love and who make you laugh.

Lilly is even present in my holidays.  After a couple of years of making a few just ok hams for Easter, about three years ago I decided to try the ham in Lilly’s Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Holidays.  Well, that is now my famous ham recipe.  While I always give Lilly credit, I also tell people that the reason why I think the ham recipe is go good is that it is probably from the 1960’s, is not filled preservatives and is basted in ginger ale.  It probably does not hurt that I buy the ham at Whole Foods before I add the Lilly glaze…see you knew there would be a Good, Better, Best angle here somewhere!

This year we had a bunch of adults and five kids aged 1-6 out hunting for eggs in the rain but none of that mattered as long as everyone was having fun.  Design Gal loves the ham and asked me if I would consider making the ham at Christmas too.  Well, that was not something that I had planned on…but isn’t that what life is about…creating beautiful experiences for your family and friends.  So this year at Christmas stay tuned for a blog about transporting Lilly’s ham to dinner!

Lilly started her business with a simple idea, have a seamstress create a shift dress in a bold pattern to hide juice stains when she was working at a stand in her husband’s citrus groves.  What she then went on to do was create a fashion empire and a style that is still often imitated but never outdone.   All while doing this, she never let her business take away from her children and those she enjoyed.  Her daughter Liza was quoted this week saying: “Mom was an extraordinary cook and hostess, always entertaining the people she loved, which was a large, extended group,” said Liza. “And she had a wicked sense of humor. And while she was serious about her fashion career, she always put family first.”

Howell Conant

Ms. Pulitzer with her daughters Minnie, left, and Liza, right, at her home in Palm Beach in 1963

Ms. Pulitzer with her daughters Minnie, left, and Liza, right, at her home in Palm Beach in 1963

While she may have in fact created the first “life-style brand”, something that everyone is trying to do today, Lilly was successful because of who she was and how she treated people.  Her son Peter Pulitzer said: “How she loved, cared and gave us her all, while living her life to the fullest and having a pretty good time designing clothes is a mystery to me,” said Peter. “She was amazing, a grounding force of her extended family, which included many, many friends over the years.” 

Lilly Pulitzer didn’t have to be mean, rude or pushy to be successful.  She was who she was, comfortable in her own skin…I mean you have to be pretty fun and comfortable with yourself to wear clothing covered with lions, tigers, snapdragons and flying fish.  So while women today are being encouraged to “Lean In”,  I also want to make sure  we take the time to kick off our shoes, call a group of friends and their kids over last minute, wet down the floors and dance the night away Lilly style.

In reading the many amazing quotes about Lilly Pulitzer this week I can only think that while she was a trailblazer in the fashion industry, her greatest success is how she treated people whether they were walking her dog or were members of her own family.  Although we should try and break the glass ceiling, Lilly taught us that the most important thing in life is to have a great time surrounded by people who make you happy.  My goal is to continue to do the best work I can at my day job, but will never stop putting my family, friends and fun first all while wearing clothes that make me smile.  I will also take great pleasure in creating Good, Better, Best meals, wine reviews and garden advice for my wonderful readers who take the time to share in this blog.

God speed Lilly Pulitzer.  I have no doubt that heaven is a more beautiful, colorful and fashionable place now and thank you for blazing that pink and green trail.  Lilly Pulitzer was and is the Best! 

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