22 Aug Pure Palm Beach
The name Lilly Pulitzer is synonymous with seasons spent in Boca Raton and Palm Beach, worn by the fashionable set as well as those that aspire to the look of Florida’s gold coast and beyond.
The epitome of whimsical, patterned fabrics, the brand, and the woman behind the fashion designs, has reigned for decades as the ultimate in summery leisure sportswear.
But what about the woman behind the woman? Many don’t know the true genius that created the textiles which would eventually become the “Lilly Pulitzer” look.
The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum is giving due to this artist with a small but vibrant exhibition entitled Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand and the show is stunning for the range of work as well as the prolific contribution Ms. Zuzek made to textile design.
The exhibition presents, through textiles, watercolor sketches, photography, film and curated garments, the process of imagining a print all the way through to its production. It also explains the creation of silkscreens and the printing process, complete with an example of a hand-screen-printing table with photographs demonstrating how a pair of printers, moving down a bolt of fabric, would apply each color as needed for a design. It was an exacting and complex operation with talented staff doing all the steps by hand to bring the textiles to life.
After graduating from Pratt Institute in 1949, Suzie Zuzek found work in New York designing prints for fashion and home furnishings. She relocated to Key West, Florida when she married in 1955 and there she eventually met fellow New Yorkers Jim Russell and Peter Pell who co-owned a screen print factory, Key West Hand Print Fabrics. Offering her a job as head designer, she jumped at the opportunity in 1961 and her career accelerated immediately.
A tireless worker, she sketched and painted designs non-stop, developing more than 1,550 designs over her 24 years with the company. Almost all of these designs would be used by Lilly Pulitzer for her eponymous line.
The two women had a powerful symbiotic relationship, collaborating closely to share ideas, establish the brand’s look and feel and make beautiful fabrics together. Both made each equally successful, though Ms. Pulitzer would spend her career in the spotlight while Ms. Zuzek worked quietly in the background, positions that suited them both.
Worn by famous women like Jackie Kennedy, the brand provided an unexpected juxtaposition between classic sportswear cuts and wild, eclectic prints perfect for sunny climes and ideal for travel in easy, lightweight cottons. The clothing appealed to women, men and even children, for whom matching shirts and dresses were made to twin the adults. Eventually home furnishing lines would be introduced as well, with print designs also spearheaded by Ms. Zuzek.
A lover of animals and all things nature, many of her pieces centered around flora and fauna in vivid hues, almost electric shades of pink, yellow, green and orange. No color was out of consideration and the brighter the better.
As a contributor to fashion and style, Suzie Zuzek’s work for Lilly Pulitzer is a formidable catalogue of historical mid-century prints and set an industry standard, both for its intelligent use of color as well as playful sense of humor.
Through her winning partnership with Lilly Pulitzer, she was the artist who made the “Lilly Pulitzer” look a reality and, in doing so, also made the world and those that wore the clothes just a little more joyful.
Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand runs through January 2, 2022.
Special Note: Feature Image for this blog post courtesy of New York Social Diary.