Lilly Pulitzer: Fashion Designer, Socialite Dies at 81

PHOTO: Lilly Pulitzer
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Lily Pulitzer Rousseau, the fashion designer whose vibrant shift dresses and tennis skirts defined preppy style, has died at the age of 81.

A posting on the Lilly Pulitzer Facebook page said she "passed away peacefully in Palm Beach, [Fla.] surrounded by family and loved ones."

"Lilly has been a true inspiration to us and we will miss her," the post said. "In the days and weeks ahead we will celebrate all that Lilly meant to us. Lilly was a true original who has brought together generations through her bright and happy mark on the world."

PHOTOS: Lily Pulitzer's Fashion Through the Years

Born Lillian McKim, she attended the tony Miss Porter's school in Farmington, Conn., where the future first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, was among her classmates.

Lilly married Peter Pulitzer, grandson of newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer.

The couple moved to Palm Beach, Fla., where they had three children: Peter, Minnie and Liza.

Despite having money and being well-known on the society circuit, Pulitzer told People Magazine she was so miserable that she landed in a Westchester, N.Y., mental hospital for six months.

"I went crazy," Pulitzer told the magazine in 1982. "I was a namby-pamby; people always made decisions for me. The doctor said I should find something to do."

Pulitzer began juicing citrus grown at her family's groves, but was always covered in juice at the end of the work day.

She designed herself a shift dress to match the juice stains. It received so many compliments that she launched her first fashion line in 1959 -- just a few dresses -- at her juice stand.

The dresses were a hit, and Pulitzer entered the fashion business full-time.

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"It was a total change of life for me," she told W Magazine in 2008. "I entered it with no business sense. ... It was just something that I all of a sudden took over."

The brand reached new heights when Pulizter's former classmate, Jackie Kennedy, was photographed wearing one of her dresses while on vacation, according to the Lily Pulitzer website.

"Jackie wore one of my dresses -- it was made from kitchen curtain material -- and people went crazy. They took off like zingo. Everybody loved them, and I went into the dress business," Pulitzer said.

She divorced Peter Pulitzer in 1969 and that year married Cuban lawyer Enrique Rousseau, who died in 1993.

Through the years, Pulitzer's brand expanded to include country club attire, swimsuits, children's clothing, home goods and a limited selection of menswear.

Despite grossing millions of dollars each year, Pulitzer shut down her closing line in 1984 when sales began to slump.

The Lilly Pulitzer revival came a decade later when she sold the license in 1993, stepping away from the daily business grind but remaining as a consultant.

The free-spirited socialite known for going barefoot whenever possible, continuted to host parties at her Florida home and published two guides to entertaining, reveling in her belief that "it's always summer somewhere."

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