The bright colors of Lilly Pulitzer are making a comeback. And this time they're not just for clothes.
By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published August 15, 2003
When Holli Morris decided to deck out her teenage daughter's bedroom in snow cone colored Lilly Pulitzer fabrics, she started with a coat of bright, tropical paint. The shade? Sassy, signature Lilly green, tangy enough to make your mouth pucker.
Morris and her husband, Mike, a builder and owner of Bayfair Custom Homes, live in Palma Ceia in an old house with an open floor plan. It didn't lend itself to Key West-style colors in the main living area, Morris says. But in a bedroom, creating that preppy, lolling-on-the-beach-Lilly-look was a cinch.
Morris still remembers the jaw-dropping looks when people saw the new key lime colored walls.
"You could see on their faces that they thought we had lost our minds," she recalls. "It was so bright that even we thought, "Oh my gosh, did we make a huge mistake?"'
They finished the room with a patchwork-style Lilly comforter in a kaleidoscope of fruity colors accompanied by Lilly curtains in white-and-pink pique. The look was "really invigorating," Morris says. "The colors are wild, hot and mixed in crazy ways."
Oh, that look.
The Lilly look - with its roots burrowed in retro-1960s country-club fashion - has been getting a lot of ink this season, from Harper's Bazaar to Elle to Town & Country. Better Homes and Gardens Kids' Rooms just featured an eight-page tribute to a Lilly-inspired bedroom in a Detroit Junior League show house.
And, in July, Vanity Fair had a story on Lilly herself, the 71-year-old free-spirited socialite who made a splash 40 years ago selling her Palm Beach cotton shifts for $22 from a roadside fruit stand.
Since then her popularity has waxed and waned. Today her Sweet Tart palette delights again thanks to a nostalgia among women who wore the fashion as children, says Kate Kenny, public relations manager for Lilly Pulitzer in New York.
"Life, Lilly and the Pursuit of Happiness," is the new company motto. And used liberally in a home setting, the colorful fabrics and prints are so perky, just looking at them is like popping a visual Zoloft.
"The colors lift a room and your spirits and makes you feel good about yourself," says Kenny.
And people who love the Lilly look aren't just letting loose in their guest bedrooms and summer homes, either.
"We sell a lot of fabric by the yard," says Mary Osiason, who, along with Rande Weissman, co-owns the Pink Palm, a Lilly signature store in South Tampa. The store is known equally for its Lilly shifts and line of home decorating accessories, from zesty comforters and throw pillows to plush towels.
They even sell Lilly-inspired furniture and coordinating acrylic-on-canvas paintings of hibiscus and shells by a local artist.
Osiason, who grew up in upstate New York, remembers begging for a pink-and-green Lilly blanket and matching nightgown when she 8 years old.
"It was so cute and made such an impression on me, that I completely wore the whole ensemble out," she recalls, laughing. "Now I live in a world of Lilly. Everything I wear is Lilly."
In Palm Beach, where the Lilly Pulitzer line was born in 1962, a new and expanded home collection for spring will debut at the company's September sales meeting. Expect a selection of slightly more subdued, slightly more affordable Lilly home decor items and textiles.
"We're still all about pink and green," says Geri Wetmore, a vice president of marketing for Dan River, which manufactures the Lilly home line. "But it's a collection that will be as suitable in Boston and Chicago as it is in Florida."
Generally, the home look is more expensive than the clothes. A shift runs about $160, considered cheap in some circles for a designer dress. But a complete bed ensemble - comforter, shams, dust ruffle and the works - can run $1,500 to $2,000.
Many customers splurge for the whole thing. But for glamour girls on a budget, Osiason offers some advice. Buy fabric by the yard. Three yards for $160 really equals 6 yards because it's sold in double-wide pieces. Make curtains or pillows with it, she suggests. Or a table cover or bed canopy.
The idea is to incorporate the look like you would pearls. A little goes a long way.
"Do your basic bedding in solids," she says. "Then throw in a sham or a throw pillow. Display a vintage Lilly dress as art. Hand paint something on the wall. You'll still get a look that's very beautiful."
As an example, Osiason points to a shower curtain in a "Palm Beach Toille" design that she threw over an ordinary table for an elegant touch. Other ideas: cut up an old Lilly dress and sew the patches onto a quilt or pillow. Even a Lilly purse makes for a funky magazine holder in the corner of a room.
The look doesn't have to scream "frilly."
Jane Ramos was looking for a compromise for her sporty, soccer loving daughter, Sarah Jane, when they settled on a bright blue print with zippy-green frogs from the Pink Palm. Decorating her bedroom in their new Davis Islands home became an all-out-Lilly adventure. The bathroom soon followed with matching towels in lime-green, yellow and blue. A window-seat cushion was covered with two extra yards of the same Prince Charming fabric used to make the duvet cover.
"She liked it because it was blue," Ramos explains. "I liked it because it wasn't navy."
In fact, the snazzy tropical prints are what lend Lilly its elan. Osiason points to the orange and pink monkey-print shift she's wearing as "the real inspiration" for her store, which opened two years ago.
She couldn't find the Lilly dress anywhere in town. So she opened the aptly named Pink Palm.
Aside from clothes, you can buy Lilly shower curtains, soap dishes and toothbrush holders - even Lilly tissue dispensers. Weissman, her business partner, observed women in Lilly, Lilly and more Lilly during her vacation to Maine last week. "I can spot that Lilly pink a mile away," Weissman says. "And I can tell you that last year no one was wearing it."
And you're never too young to start.
Says Osiason: "I just got a call from a woman who's doing her new baby's room all in Lilly."