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The Unseen, Painterly Side of Lilly Pulitzer’s Beginnings

Photo: Nocturne © 1969, designed by Suzie Zuzek for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, Inc. (Key West, Florida), Brush and green watercolor, pen and black ink, graphite on cream paper 38.1 × 56.1 cm (15 × 22 1/16 in.), Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Photo: Matt Flynn © The Original I.P. LLC

Animated by tropical colors and ebullient animal patterns, the original Lilly Pulitzer resortwear designs of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s defined the era’s preppy Palm Beach vibe. Though the clothes were designed by Pulitzer, most of the underlying prints were the creation of Suzie Zuzek (1920–2011), who until now has remained unheralded for her role. A forthcoming exhibition at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum will give credit where it’s due. Titled Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand, the show will mix Zuzek’s watercolor and gouache paintings with Pulitzer fashions. In addition, a companion volume, Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Artist Behind an Iconic American Fashion Brand, 1962–1985, comes out from Rizzoli Electa in April. The Cooper Hewitt show’s curator, Susan Brown, says that beyond just being charming and witty, the prints have a sense of balance that serves them well, given that as textiles they have to look good up close or far away. Zuzek, who studied commercial illustration at Pratt, was wildly productive, coming up with more than 1,500 designs for Florida-based Key West Hand Print Fabrics. At the same time, she managed a menagerie at home that included cats, dogs, peacocks, rabbits, goats and even a monkey named Trinket. “She was a humble person,” says her daughter and onetime collaborator, Martha dePoo, “but she would have appreciated this recognition.” cooperhewitt.org

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