The Artist Behind Lilly Pulitzer: An Inside Look at Christie’s Suzie Zuzek Auction

Lillies by Suzie Zuzek in dress and print form. Dress from the my collection.

My personal history with Lilly Pulitzer goes back as far as I can remember. The women in my family loved Lilly and often wore the brand’s signature shifts. I remember the thrill of the catalog arriving in the mail and the hours I spent with it—an honor shared only with the magazine-quality ’90s J. Crew catalog. And our annual visits to the Lilly store were my first memories of shopping as a joy instead of an errand. Now, every summer when I take my Lillys out of storage, I’m brought back to those perfect summer days of childhood.

These clothes evoke such memories so powerfully because of one thing: the prints. The “playful and eclectic” designs (as aptly described by Christie’s) are immediately recognizable. They are prints for a party, even if the “party” is just a perfect summer’s day. The signature Lilly look perfectly captures this celebratory approach to life, and it was Suzie Zuzek, the artist behind the prints, who overwhelmingly shaped that look.

Suzie Zuzek, a Key West-based designer, created almost every print for the brand from 1962 to 1985. Her designs were worn by some of the most stylish women in the world, Jackie Kennedy among them, her work gracing the pages of Vogue and GQ (at the time, the brand had a popular men’s line, too). And, until recently, you might not have known who was behind them.

“Currie” by Suzie Zuzek.

A 2021 posthumous solo exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt museum introduced Zuzek’s name to the wider public. This spring, Christie’s offered forty-three original Zuzek watercolors, on the market for the first time, in the auction “Suzie Zuzek: The Artist Behind Lilly Pulitzer.”

From left to right, “Heraldry,” “Quack,” and “Weather Vanes.”

Last week, I was invited by Christie’s for a behind-the-scenes look at the Zuzek auction—an incredible privilege. The forty-three watercolors in the sale were all framed by Christie’s, who included order sheets and notes for each print on the back. I was able to take my time with each watercolor and their original papers, experiencing the artwork as it was meant to be experienced—as a working document. These prints and the corresponding documentation show the inner workings of a seminal moment in American style, one that has had an enduring impact.

The reverse of “Weather Vanes” included printing notes for screenprinting.

Lilly Pulitzer once said, “That’s what life is about—let’s have a party. Let’s have it tonight.” Lilly dresses—and Zuzek’s prints—are synonymous with that sentiment. I’m looking forward to pulling out my Lillys this summer and raising a glass to celebrate Zuzek for the joy she’s given me and so many other women.

Lilly Pulitzer’s iconic signature on the reverse of Zuzek’s watercolor “Currie.”

Thank you, Christie’s, for the incredible opportunity to see Zuzek’s work up close. My special thanks to Nathalie Ferneau and Caroline Kuchta for the generous invitation!

3 thoughts on “The Artist Behind Lilly Pulitzer: An Inside Look at Christie’s Suzie Zuzek Auction

  1. I was privileged to see these at Christies in Palm Beach and to win one in the auction. Suzie Zuzek was incredibly talented and we are so fortunate that these fabulous original works of hers managed to survive.

  2. Thank You! It was a true pleasure to discover the artist behind these classic works and browse the auction website. Envious, but so pleased for you to have seen the watercolors – my favorite medium – in person. I was reminded of discovering, years ago, the works of Gretchen Dow Simpson from seeing her New Yorker cover pieces – admittedly, that fact that we share a middle name [maiden in her case perhaps?] might have influenced my search also. Refocusing, my day was made brighter by your thoughtful sharing. Cheers!

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