The spirit of Lilly endures wherever ladies go to relax

June 09, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

Since the '60s, the Lilly label has been the lingua franca of ladies who resort -- a testimonial to the fact that a distinctive style can snub the vagaries of high fashion.

Those colorful and clubby print numbers have survived trends and tides, and have continued to wash up in places where Lilly is spoken.

Nostalgia and common sense have moved Lillys through some of the best closets in town. Women have held on to them, grown out of them, passed them on to friends, bagged them for resale and cut them up into placemats.

Although the Lilly line was out of production for 10 years, it refused to go away. The label has been a staple at hospital and church thrift sales as well as country and yacht clubs, Bahama regattas and island compounds where the Lilly ladies go to relax. Duplicate wardrobes of them could be found in northern summer cottages and southern winter villas.

"My favorite was a shift in a blue-green color combination," says Mrs. James Zimmerman, farmhouse chairman of the biannual GBMC Nearly New Sale where many Lillys have passed through.

"I've worn them over the years," she says, "bought the first in Key West and one or two at the Nearly New. They have a lot of charm -- the lace and pique trim on the pocket or collar."

Lillys were naturals for sunny places.

"Everybody used to wear them non-stop all year long," says Sallie Worthington, sales associate and buyer at the Elizabeth Christmas shop in Riderwood. "The sleeveless shifts with the white petals for a collar were marvelous with the suntans, which we all used to get. "And the patterns and colors were terrific."

The new models are not in the Elizabeth Christmas store yet, but everyone is paying attention.

The new Lillys have come and gone at the Wilmington Country Store in Ruxton. Sales associate Jane McNamara says the spring line moved very well.

"The slacks in panels of bright aqua and yellow were very popular, as were sweaters," she says.

And they sold to women who remembered them from last time around as well as younger customers who are coming to them fresh.

"As you design, you face that constantly. We don't want to rule any customers out, and we design for a lifestyle rather than a generation," says Judi Tavill, head designer for the new Lilly Pulitzer line. "I remember my mom wearing Lillys at the beach and I suppose I also had some. But I'm the new generation of Lilly customer. I didn't really live through them the first time."

Ms. Tavill is a local girl who's made good in the design world. She went to Baltimore County public schools, graduated from Pikesville High School, went on to study design at Washington University in St. Louis and did a study stint in Paris.

After trying a small line of her own on the boutique scene and jobs with different manufacturers, she has settled in Lilly land.

"Grandmothers may buy the shift as is, granddaughters will shorten it way up for a very '60s retro look. But we always consider comfort highly and so we reach many ages and figure types," she says.

"When it comes to producing the line, we look to the originals for inspiration. We set up patterns and working designs for a season and then meet with Lilly. She really understands the Lilly customer. It's a multi-faceted consultation and going to Palm Beach to meet with her is quite something. She's a legend and she lives up to it."

Margaret Smith -- owner of the Wilmington Country Stores, which has catered to the club set for 40 years -- says she carried Lillys in their heyday and expects them to have another hurrah.

"The tried-and-true customers," she says, "showed up for the trunk shows and they bought."

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