How Suzie Zuzek inspired Lilly Pulitzer’s fashion empire

Gerard Ortiz

The minimal-identified artist made some of the most iconic layouts of 60s and 70s style. Christie’s will give 43 of her authentic watercolour and gouache paintings on the web this spring &#13

You could not identify the identify Suzie Zuzek, but you are possible familiar with her operate. 

The formally-educated artist and single mom of 3 was doing the job as head designer for a store termed Vital West Hand Print Fabrics in 1962 when Lilly Pulitzer walked in barefoot one particular day and ordered 300 yards of a Zuzek print on the spot. When Pulitzer returned home to Palm Seaside, she named and adjusted the purchase to 3,000. It was the beginning of a marriage that spanned a quarter of a century and would modify the program of American style.

Among 1962 and 1985, Zuzek created 1,500 styles, a lot of of which ended up made use of by Pulitzer. Her eclectic, playful prints, ranging from anthropomorphic zoo animals to the flora and fauna of the Florida Keys, turned the hallmark of the American vacation resort brand, liked by fashion icons such as Jacqueline Kennedy.  

Continuing to usher in Zuzek’s legacy, Christie’s will give 43 unique watercolour and gouache drawings by Zuzek in Suzie Zuzek: The Artist Behind Lilly Pulitzer on the net beginning this March. The works occur from Zuzek’s lately found archive, now privately held by a St Louis group. One particular of the house owners Becky Smith serendipitously discovered Zuzek’s story, and has due to the fact committed herself to preserving the collection and reuniting Zuzek with her oeuvre for upcoming generations to love.

It all began when Smith flew to Key West in 2007 seeking for vintage Lilly Pulitzer cloth to upholster an armchair. She realized that Important West Hand Print Fabrics, Inc. created Pulitzer’s textiles in the 60s and 70s. When she tracked down former staff Martha De Poo, she was advised, ‘You do not want to meet me, you want to meet my mom — she designed the art used by Lilly Pulitzer.’  

Speaking with Christie’s, Smith describes what occurred next: ‘I hopped in Martha’s white van, and we went to her mom’s household. Martha unlocked the gate: there was a peacock, roosters, and then there was Suzie, sitting down beneath this enormous banyan tree. I expended the overall working day with them, and they shared their tale with me.’

A non-practising law firm, Smith’s curiosity about Zuzek’s story took her to the Library of Congress in Washington DC. A lookup by way of the card catalogue verified Zuzek as the artist of in excess of 1,500 copyrighted titles.

‘This just one lady made all these legendary layouts of my childhood, and still no a single understood her. Tens of millions of people know and adore the perform, but they really don’t know Zuzek the creator,’ Smith recalled. 

She collected traders and bought the art and copyrights of Critical West Hand Print Materials — beforehand owned by Lilly Pulitzer. ‘The functions were secreted absent. When the initially box was opened, Zuzek’s bouquets jumped out. They have been so vivid you could practically smell them’, states Smith. ‘Her animals jumped out as well, and they were being so alive. It was magical.’

In 2020 Rizzoli Electa released Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Artist At the rear of an Iconic American Manner Manufacturer, 1962-1985, which showcased about 100 paintings. The following yr Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Layout Museum in New York introduced the to start with solo exhibition of Zuzek’s get the job done, which include above 35 unique artworks.  

As Smith claims now, ‘We are partnering with Christie’s to carry on to deliver consciousness to Suzie Zuzek — the two as an artist’s manufacturer with a heartfelt story and to watch her designs in a new way. We want to breathe new lifestyle into them and for all people to know and love Suzie.’

The 43 will work on paper provided at Christie’s showcase the entire scope of Zuzek’s creativeness. In Zuzek’s terms, ‘There’s actually very little unique in this world. It’s just the distinctive twist you give a point.’ 

Smith describes that Zuzek was inspired by the animals she grew up with on a dairy farm in Upstate New York, the bouquets and fruits that surrounded her although she was functioning in Southern Florida, as properly as the unicorn tapestries at The Achieved Cloisters in New York and the Musée de Cluny in Paris.  

‘Her artwork is quite very similar to the tapestries she fills most of the paper with flowers and plants, and all kinds of exceptional, seemingly unrelated subject issue,’ Smith adds. ‘Looking from a distance at the paintings, you imagine it’s just one issue, but as you get closer, you are astonished by what you’re seeing. You can invest hrs entranced by her designs.’

She also factors out that while we’re common with the over and above-shiny, vivid hues of Lilly Pulitzer’s textiles of nowadays, Zuzek’s unique models experienced a naturalistic palette: she employed dazzling colors for tropical bouquets, and delicate browns, ochres and greys for her animals. The operates in the sale permit us to see Zuzek’s designs as they were initially supposed.  

‘Zuzek was a true artist, she noticed the attractiveness in anything,’ Smith provides. ‘We want to rejoice her as the consequential figure in American society she was.’ It’s about time.


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