EXHIBITION CELEBRATES THE DESIGNER BEHIND THE ICONIC PRINTS USED BY LILLY PULITZER, 1962–1985
When socialite-turned-designer Lilly Pulitzer’s simple shift dresses hit the fashion scene in the early 1960s, their eye-catching, whimsical prints made them instantly recognizable. Yet few people know that most of those prints were designed by Key West artist Suzie Zuzek (Agnes Helen Zuzek de Poo, American, 1920–2011). Zuzek was a staff designer for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, where Pulitzer sourced most of her fabrics—and all of her prints—between 1962 and 1985, the period during which Pulitzer owned and oversaw the company that bears her name. Zuzek’s prolific imagination fueled Pulitzer’s runaway success. The unexpected combination of classic sportswear styling with playful, eclectic patterns defined a uniquely American style, often spotted on fashion icons such as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Suzie Zuzek for Lilly Pulitzer: The Prints That Made the Fashion Brand is the first museum exhibition to reveal the nature and scope of Zuzek’s artistic contribution to the quintessential Pulitzer style. Included in the exhibition are more than 35 original watercolor and gouache design drawings by Zuzek, alongside finished screen-printed textiles and some of the fashions that made them famous. The works on view include ten drawings recently acquired for the museum’s collection through a gift from the Key West Hand Print Fabrics archive, now privately owned.
Zuzek’s designs showcase her creative treatment of subjects ranging from mythical creatures to cosmology to the flora and fauna of the Florida Keys. Her palette was typically naturalistic, employing both the brilliant hues of the tropical flowers and the subtle browns, ochres, and grays used in her renderings of animals. When used as fabrics for the the Pulitzer collections, Zuzek’s designs were printed in the beyond-bright, vivid colors the brand is famous for. The exhibition will demonstrate the process of translating an artist’s rendering to fabric, and ultimately fashion, through silkscreen printing.
Image: Drawing, Tennessee’s Hibiscus, © June 4, 1973. Designed by Suzie Zuzek (Agnes Helen Zuzek de Poo, American, 1920–2011) for Key West Hand Print Fabrics, Inc. (Key West, Florida). Brush and watercolor, white gouache, pen and black ink, graphite on paper. 38.2 × 56.2 cm (15 1/16 × 22 1/8 in.). Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Gift of The Original I.P. LLC, 2019-11-8. Photo: Matt Flynn © The Original I.P. LLC.