Recently, a tipster alerted us to a curious decision by the 56-year-old resort wear purveyor Lilly Pulitzer: one of their new prints, as it appears in the above spring look book, is named “Lolita.” How youthful! We are curious about how this idea came to fruition.
Lilly Pulitzer prints often have very sleepily winking names, which usually connote some aspect of the actual design. In the currently available collection, “Nice Stems” is a palm tree print; “Oh Shello” is a seashell print; “Reef Retreat” is a busy paisley guy incorporating coral tones, which suggests both an actual reef and the soothing yet invigorating effects of marijuana. Here is another look at the “Lolita” print, this one from a forthcoming catalog.
I am actually curious: what is the connection there? The catalog copy cites the yellow flashes in the hibiscus flowers, which “light up” when the wearer is outside. “Just stay outside and let your flowers shine,” Lilly whispers. But, it is essentially impossible to imagine that Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita, featuring an oily professor in his late thirties who concocts and enacts an elaborate plan to groom, romance, and repeatedly have sex with a 12-year-old girl, was not at the forefront of the minds of the designers, creative directors, copywriters, and executives who had to approve this print. So are these “flowers shining in the sun” supposed to evoke—uh—forget it!
Leaving the question of propriety aside for a minute, the more straightforward aesthetic evocation of either Lolita, the book, or “Lolita,” the pop-culture trope, would have involved more red than is customary for the acidic Lilly palette: more hearts, maybe; something that gave off more “forbidden picnic” than “Moscow mule with my blonde daughter Reagan.” The print in connection with Lolita actually made me think of this verse in the poem Humbert Humbert writes about his child sex partner:
Who is your hero, Dolores Haze? Still one of those blue-capped star-men? Oh the balmy days and the palmy bays, and the cars, and the bars, my Carmen!
Dreamy. The poem ends in a fantasia of him getting arrested by police officers for his forbidden, ultra-romantic love:
Wanted, wanted, Dolores Haze. Her dream-gray gaze never flinches. Ninety pounds is all she weighs, with a height of sixty inches.
90 pounds, 60 inches. The funny thing is that Lilly Pulitzer already does achieve its idea of sophistication through aggressive childishness; “Lilly girls are alive at sunrise” is the first line in this catalog copy.
And, of course, Lilly dresses seem designed for children and then sized up. As Robin Givhan put it in this amazing Washington Post piece, in which she also wrote “Lilly Pulitzer is not fashion. It is clothes”:
The classic Lilly Pulitzer dress comes in shrill shades of yellow and pink that are vaguely infantilizing. They are clothes that can be shrunk down and worn by 7-year-old girls without changing a single design element—if there were actual design elements to change. But there are not.
There’s a robust Actual Girls division at Lilly Pulitzer, and the clothes share fabric with the Adult Girls section. Will the Baby Lilly Shift Dress be available in Lolita? You’ll have to wait till February 22 to find out.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images via our tipster