Palm Beach Fashion Icon Lilly Pulitzer — Dead at 81

Lilly Pulitzer with a fan

Lilly Pulitzer with a fan in one of her stores (Special to Gossip Extra)

flag-breaking-newsLilly Pulitzer, the fashion icon who colored the often staid clothes of Palm Beachers for decades, died overnight.

Pulitzer, whose real name was Lillian Rousseau, died at her home in Palm Beach after what family described as a “brief illness.”

Property records show she lived in a $8.6 million mansion at 701 S. County Road.

Rousseau had three scandal-prone children: Liza, Minnie and Peter Jr., and a slew of grandchildren.

Rousseau’s first husband, publishing heir Peter Pulitzer, became a favorite tabloid subject in the 1980s. His 1983 divorce from his second wife, Roxanne Pulitzer, exposed the drugs- and sex-laced underbelly of society.

Rousseau’s reputation, however, remained unscathed. A classy lady, she remained above the fray.

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“Lilly had nothing to do with all that madness,” said local journalist Linda Marx, who covered the divorce trial. “Lilly was a lovely, lovely, unpretentious lady who was kind to everyone.

“She was very intelligent woman. She started the fashion business to keep herself busy and it became a national phenomenon.”

Lillly Pulitzer with husband Peter in 1963

Lilly Pulitzer with husband Peter in 1963 (Life Magazine)

Under the name Lilly Pulitzer, Rousseau started designing bright, colorful and flowery patterns in the late-1950s. The ideas for her patterns came from her designing her own shifts to work in her juice stand near Worth Avenue.

Her goal was to hide the juice stains.

In time, her lime greens, oranges, yellows and pinks — colors she culled from her environment in ex-husband Peter’s Central Florida groves — became synonymous with the carefree living of Palm Beach.

With trend-setters like former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, her daughter Caroline, the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys wearing her stuff, the Lilly Pulitzer brand quickly spread to ocean-side resorts throughout the country.

Rousseau, however, shut down the business in 1984. Nine years later, Sugartown Worldwide secured Rousseau’s agreement to restart the brand. Sugartown was bought out by Oxford Industries, which maintains the Lilly Pulitzer stores.

Rousseau was not involved with the day-to-day operation but continued to act as a consultant.

Lilly eventually married for a second time, to businessman Enrique Rousseau. He died of cancer in 1993.

Lilly Pulitzer in her Worth Avenue store in 1963 in Palm Beach

Lilly Pulitzer in her Worth Avenue store in 1963 in Palm Beach (Life Magazine)

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  1. Sarasota girl loves Lilly says

    She didn’t make SHIRTS she made SHIFTS (as in her famous shift dress)

  2. TIDE ferrari racing palm beach,tom davis says

    Terrific Lady. Lilly had her home [ 735 s.county rd.] for sale next to my old place at 755 south county road, Palm Beach asking $6,000,000. Neat place with a true Florida garden / jungle. Roxy Pulitzer was doing my X- wife Lin Berlitz Hiltons shared lover Jaquine Kimberly.I was her fourth husband for one year, divorce her after daughter was born and healthy,had most weekends at Wellington Polo Aero Club for 8 years. Lin Berlitz dumped her first Illegit son off at N.H. college to super dad Dr. King while he was attending vet. school. Never saw her son more than one week a year. Both children graduated top in class, my daughter 2nd. 2006 at Vanderbilt and 3rd. Duke Law 2009. TIDE ferrari racing. Please help save the MIAMI Marine Stadium.

  3. Floridagirl says

    She was amazing. My Grandmother knew her in the early days of her shop and she would give dresses to my Grandmother for my sister and I . Now my high school Daughter loves them as we’ll.