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HomeWest Palm Beach, FLLife in Color with Lilly Pulitzer's Mira Fain

Life in Color with Lilly Pulitzer’s Mira Fain

Mira Fain, Lilly Pulitzer’s creative director and executive vice president of fashion design and development, at the Lilly Pulitzer Palm Beach design studio. Photography by Gabor Jurina. All art copyright/owned by Lilly Pulitzer
Mira Fain, Lilly Pulitzer’s creative director and executive vice president of fashion design and development, at the Lilly Pulitzer Palm Beach design studio. Photography by Gabor Jurina. All art copyright/owned by Lilly Pulitzer

The magic of Palm Beach is hidden somewhere in the ambling vias that connect secret enclaves along Worth Avenue, where lovers might stop for a kiss and shoppers stroll arm-in-arm under wooden trellises. It is buried in Pan’s Garden, to be heard only in the gurgle of the fountains. It lives beneath the shade of the Clock Tower, beckoning all to azure waters. 

Wherever that magic can be found, so too can the Lilly Pulitzer design team. On routine creative outings, designers for the legendary clothing and lifestyle brand search for hints of beauty that personify Palm Beach—plucking them straight from the town’s enchanting bougainvillea and translating them within their prints.

Sitting on the winding staircase just outside Pizza Al Fresco in Via Mizner (where Pulitzer had her first store), a designer is engrossed in her sketchbook. Her gaze is focused on the wooden lattice fence, and soon enough, the same geometric shapes and patterns appear on her pages. As she draws, she uses the cool blues, romantic greens, and punchy yellows found in the via’s tilework. When the design team makes their way to the beach, it is the grittiness of the sand, the delicate lines of the seashells, and the pink umbrellas from The Colony that spark inspiration. 

Flowers by Renny & Reed, West Palm Beach; Palm Beach, Assouline; Lilly Pulitzer, Assouline
Flowers by Renny & Reed, West Palm Beach; Palm Beach, Assouline; Lilly Pulitzer, Assouline

Back in the Lilly Pulitzer Palm Beach design studio on Royal Palm Way, the team is on the cusp of finalizing the Spring 2024 collection. The studio’s foyer boasts two rattan lamps—one a giraffe, the other a palm tree with coconut lights—plus a pink velvet sofa with pink toile pillows offset by luscious green wall hangings. 

The color explosion continues in the print studio, which showcases the upcoming line. A long, white table holds a large bowl of mixed citrus fruits, fresh flowers, design books, and sketch pads. A bright pink palm tree sits next to an easel covered in paintings. The entire space is a pastel Disneyland—the visual equivalent of indulging in a tower of Ladurée macarons. Tacked to the walls are printed pages of the season’s palette, with names like Confetti Pink, Plum Truffle Purple, and Champagne Beige. 

“We have a full team of artists who paint all these prints, so we really protect the hand of Lilly,” explains Mira Fain, Lilly Pulitzer’s creative director and executive vice president of fashion design and development. “Everything is hand-drawn and then put into a computer. It’s always a bit off-register and never perfect. It must be a bit haphazard.” 

Stacey Novelli and Aleah Rosenau sketch prints and designs inspired by the vias of Palm Beach for Lilly Pulitzer’s Spring 2024 sixty-fifth anniversary collection
Stacey Novelli and Aleah Rosenau sketch prints and designs inspired by the vias of Palm Beach for Lilly Pulitzer’s Spring 2024 sixty-fifth anniversary collection.

When all is said and done, the design team develops between 200 and 250 prints per season, with about 30 to 45 making the final cut. With four collections a year and an arsenal that spans women’s wear, children’s, swim, cover-ups, Luxletics (including golf and tennis wear), lounge, accessories, footwear, and home and gift, it’s no wonder that Fain’s team alone numbers more than 100 people. It’s a good thing then that her motto is “every idea is a great idea” and that she encourages creativity and innovation above all else. 

Aleah Rosenau sketches prints and designs inspired by the vias of Palm Beach for Lilly Pulitzer’s Spring 2024 sixty-fifth anniversary collection
Aleah Rosenau sketches prints and designs inspired by the vias of Palm Beach for Lilly Pulitzer’s Spring 2024 sixty-fifth anniversary collection.

This year, the stakes are even higher, as 2024 marks the brand’s sixty-fifth anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, Fain has designed a custom ballgown exclusively for Palm Beach Illustrated that will be donated to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. 

“Everything starts here in Palm Beach,” Fain notes. “Lilly started here, with her original shop in Via Mizner, and it’s our paradise. We dream the dream of Palm Beach. The sixty-fifth capsule collection is all inspired by the town’s vias, flowers, and tilework. As a team, we travel a lot. We go to Capri, Paris, the Bahamas—we try to follow in Lilly’s footsteps.”

“In my eyes, Granny was the queen of the jungle, since that’s exactly what her backyard was,” says Palm Beacher Lilly Leas Ferreira, granddaughter of Lilly Pulitzer. “The grandkids would run wild through the overgrown trees and secret paths as she tended to her plants, fed her wild animals, and hosted family and friends in the slat house. My favorite Lilly designs capture that essence of freedom and fun, with hidden animals and pops of color transporting us back to the jungle.” 

At the Lilly Pulitzer Palm Beach design studio, Fain (standing) leads a cross-functional team of print, design, and marketing including (from left) Rosenau, Novelli, and Heather Van Der Mije.
At the Lilly Pulitzer Palm Beach design studio, Fain (standing) leads a cross-functional team of print, design, and marketing including (from left) Rosenau, Novelli, and Heather Van Der Mije.

While the company’s headquarters are in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Fain encourages her team to come to Palm Beach up to eight times a year to immerse themselves in the culture, climate, and scene. In this way, the designers can get a true sense of the Lilly customer and what will work in her wardrobe and with her lifestyle. Fain has worked at the company for 18 years and lives in Delray Beach (though she keeps a condo in West Palm Beach where she stays when creative nights in the atelier linger into the early morning hours). 

Much like the brand’s iconic namesake herself—who was often seen blazing around Palm Beach in her shift dresses, her daughters dangling from her hem and her pet monkey, Goony, nestled on her shoulder—the Lilly woman is on the go. Lilly Pulitzer is the ultimate marriage of travel and glamour: it’s plane to pool, breakfast to dinner, and every activity in between.

“Granny loved seeing people in her clothes,” Ferreira continues. “The fact that 65 years later my daughters are heading off to school in the latest Lillys brings me so much joy.”  

An inspiration board for the sixty-fifth anniversary collection. Palm Beach Anniversary Toile and assorted campaign shots by Anna Palma
An inspiration board for the sixty-fifth anniversary collection. Palm Beach Anniversary Toile and assorted campaign shots by Anna Palma

“Lilly’s Palm Beach was one where you could be barefoot and boho and effortless,” Fain says. “It’s 65 years later, and we still have that.”

If Lilly Pulitzer’s home address is one of Palm Beach’s best-kept secrets (she was, after all, notorious for her open-door policy and famously greeted guests barefoot and with a glass of Clamato juice or spiked punch in hand), Fain’s global perspective may be the whispered je ne sais quoi that has kept the brand a staple among the well-heeled crowd. 

Fain was raised in Kokkola, Finland, where her parents were in the textile business. For Fain’s twelfth birthday, they gifted her a sewing machine. She made a pair of pants and was immediately hooked. 

“I literally grew up on the floors of the fabric stores we had,” she says. “I was always surrounded by fabrics and prints, and I just loved the creative process.”

After spending a year as an exchange student in Tallula, Illinois (which had a population of 750 at the time), Fain returned to Finland to obtain a business degree and later moved to Zurich, Switzerland, to study German and then to the Greek island of Rhodes. She eventually attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and graduated with a degree in fashion design. She relocated to Los Angeles, where she lived in an apartment overlooking the Hollywood sign and in Manhattan Beach, and worked for Guess, ABS, and Laundry by Shelli Segal.

Fast-forward to 2005, and Fain had grown tired of the L.A. traffic. She googled “happy dresses,” and Lilly Pulitzer popped up on her screen. 

“I sent in my résumé, moved to Pennsylvania, and that was it,” she says. “I was brought in to establish the dress business. We had some shifts, but that was it. Today, it’s the biggest division in the company,” with dresses including those for children and the Luxletic category amounting to up to 50 percent of business.  

Fain’s international prowess has helped to solidify the Lilly Pulitzer aesthetic as more than just colorful prints; her Scandinavian sensibilities have influenced the symmetrical and organized structure of the garments that make them so universally flattering. While the prints and colors may be bold and vibrant, Fain’s intuition to juxtapose those elements against clean lines has made the label synonymous with class and elegance, wink and whimsy. (Can you spot the “Lilly” in each print? If you’re having trouble, look for the “i”.)

As a brand that has garnered such a loyal and multigenerational following, how does one allow for growth and modernization while staying true to tradition and core values? For Fain, the answer lies in fabric choices. She incorporates denim, recycled materials, performance and stretch fabrics, and preferred fibers into the clothing, while retaining Lilly’s bright color combinations, clean palettes, and trademark white “halos” along the hems. 

Fain works on a sixty-fifth anniversary Lilly Pulitzer gown, created exclusively for Palm Beach Illustrated, that will benefit the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Inspiration board for sixty-fifth Anniversary collection; Palm Beach Anniversary Toile and assorted campaign shots by Anna Palma.
Fain works on a sixty-fifth anniversary Lilly Pulitzer gown, created exclusively for Palm Beach Illustrated, that will benefit the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. Inspiration board for sixty-fifth Anniversary collection; Palm Beach Anniversary Toile and assorted campaign shots by Anna Palma.

“With effortless style and a whip-smart mind, Mira is a force,” says Ferreira. “Our paths crossed a few times in her early years at Lilly Pulitzer, but the first meeting that stands out was a lunch at Field of Greens in Palm Beach. It only took a few bites of my Full of Life salad to become a fan of hers. She is as passionate about fresh, new ideas as she is about celebrating the brand’s heritage. Any chance to work with her is a pleasure.”

In the studio, Fain performs an unintentional yet veritable fashion montage of “Lilly through the ages” as she swaps outfits and poses for photos with the same graceful ease and commanding presence that Claudia Schiffer brought to the brand’s 1995 campaign. Meanwhile, members of the design team waltz in and out of this room and the next, where racks upon racks of past collections create the most colorful maze imaginable. 

“For the most special moments in your life, you remember what you had on, and you associate Lilly with the best times in life,” Fain says. “The Lilly customer is confident, never a wallflower, and she lives this bold and vibrant life.”

Fain reaches for a print swatch while building a future collection and wearing the custom Lilly’s Jungle patchwork gown
Fain reaches for a print swatch while building a future collection and wearing the custom Lilly’s Jungle patchwork gown.

The Spring 2024 collection is powerful, happy, and sophisticated—three traits that defined Lilly Pulitzer herself, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 81. 

Fain conceptualizes the custom gown against the backdrop of an original painting by Lilly Pulitzer.  Flowers by Renny & Reed, West Palm Beach; pillows by Circa Who.
Fain conceptualizes the custom gown against the backdrop of an original painting by Lilly Pulitzer. Flowers by Renny & Reed, West Palm Beach; pillows by Circa Who.

“She always had this twinkle in her eye,” Fain recalls. “She never took anything too seriously but was unbelievably witty. When I got my first interview with the company and I flew out from L.A. to meet her, I was so nervous. I drove across the bridge to her house. She had this beautiful turquoise door, and it flew open. She was barefoot and wearing white linen. She was so warm and lovely that she completely disarmed me. She brought me into the kitchen and made me tea. I assumed it was some fancy tea, but it was just something ordinary from Publix. She just had that way about her—she was the most welcoming person and always had a million cats running around.”

Warm embraces notwithstanding, Pulitzer did have some feedback for Fain’s first collection and told her to “go back to the drawing board.” But those early critiques and Fain’s relationship with Palm Beach’s Princess of Prints set her on a course for success and helped her to reimagine the brand for a new generation. 

“Lilly said to me, ‘You have a big position here now,’” says Fain. “‘Don’t look back, look forward. Just look forward.’”

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