By  on December 2, 2008

It's Friday afternoon at the Lilly Pulitzer headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa., and a group of five young designers is gathered around a table with piles of photos from magazines, blank white canvases and every shade of watercolor paint imaginable. It looks a little like summer camp, but this is no typical arts-and-crafts session — this is just one of the many ways the design team experiments and finds new ways to translate vintage Lilly prints into fresh, modern designs.

“Aren’t they amazing?” asked Janie Schoenborn, design director for print, pattern, accessories and footwear and creative advisor at the company. “Our biggest challenge is always to take something familiar and make it look new. But that’s what we do — we add just enough newness, whether it’s by tweaking a fabric or adding a new style with a classic print.”


Another challenge, she said, is coming up with ideas for fall seasons. Typically, fall isn’t the best season for the brand, especially since it’s known for its beachy pink and green sundresses, tunics and bikinis. Schoenborn, who also works closely with Linda Bradbury, senior vice president of product, finds a way to get around that with her bright pink cable-knit sweaters and animal-print winter boots — lined in bright pink, of course.

To recharge and stay inspired, Schoenborn said she and her team like to visit Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., as much as possible. Her home is filled to the brim with kitschy tchotchkes — from a giant fish-shaped soup tureen to a giggling monkey statue, and even her own Statue of Liberty in her backyard. Any of these items can easily inspire a new pattern — a swaying palm tree on a plate in her kitchen, for example, inspired the embroidered palm trees on a pair of corduroy pants.

Schoenborn also stays inspired by working in her print room at the headquarters — a space filled with thousands of vintage Lilly dresses and print swatches from years past. Each print, Schoenborn pointed out, has Lilly’s signature hidden somewhere in them.

“People love to find the name in the prints,” she said. “Some of them are hidden really well.”

Schoenborn, a seasoned designer and self-proclaimed Lilly Lover, joined the firm about three years ago. She used to own and run her own handbag company called Buzz by Jane Fox but decided to close it when James Bradbeer Jr., president of Lilly Pulitzer, came knocking.

“Lilly didn’t have handbags,” Schoenborn recalled. “I am such a fan of the brand, so I made my own bags to go with my Lilly wardrobe.

“I thought I would never leave my own company, and I certainly never thought I would move away from New York, but it’s the best decision I’ve made. I’m really in my dream job.”

But with the dream job comes a bit of pressure from the hundreds of thousands of Lilly Lovers who keep in touch with Schoenborn.

“When we make something they don’t like, we hear about it,” she said. “They complain about the fit, or that we cut the style in the wrong print — they are a very vocal group of women.”

On the flip side, Schoenborn said it can also be rewarding, since she hears a lot of positive feedback as well. Schoenborn said she often hears stories of women who wear a Lilly dress for their wedding, dress their babies in the brand to go home from the hospital or simply do not go a day without sporting something Lilly.

“It’s crazy to think that we can change people’s lives, make them happier, with these clothes,” she said. “But we really do.”

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