Tag Archives: Key West Hand Prints

Linda Morand and Key West Hand Print Fabrics

You may not know the name Linda Morand, but if you are a child of the 1960s like me, you certainly have seen her face.  Starting in 1965 she was a model in New York, appearing in all the top magazines of the period. But what is interesting to me about Linda is how she got her start. I recently received an email from her in which she told her story.

 I worked at Key West Hand Print Fabrics from the summer of 1964 till the beginning of 1965.  Jim Russell discovered me at 18 when I had run away to Key West to become a painter.  I was waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant near the old Key West building (I think they called it Harbor House before)   He hired me on the spot.  I sold the fabric and he gave me several dresses to wear.  Jim and Peter encouraged me to appear as the lead in Under the Yum Yum Tree.  I wish I had the playbill.  They took pictures of me in Lilly’s fabrics and ran an ad in The New Yorker.  It was my first modeling job!  I left Key West with the encouragement of the wonderful artist community and went on to have a successful modeling career as a Ford model.  All thanks to Jim Russell and Peter Pell.

If you are a regular reader, then you read my interview with Jacq where he told the story of Key West Hand Prints.  This information from Linda gives us a bit more of the under-told story of Key West Hand Prints. Thanks so much, Linda!

UPDATE: Here’s even more from Linda.

 I thought it might interest your readers what happened to me when I went to New York with the pictures.  In the pictures I already sent you, Jim Russell took the color one in front of the screen in the shop. Peter Pell arranged the bolts of Hand Print Fabrics for me to lunge through, and Jim took the picture.  No hair and make-up…just Key West casual.  I met Suzie de Poo and Lilly Pulitzer.  I was so young, but I was trying to look like Veruschka.  Here are some of the first pictures taken when I went to New York.  I signed with the Ford agency. They put me in the teen-age category. 

I only worked in New York for a year.  The resemblance to Jackie [Kennedy] was awkward for me, even though the clients were clamoring for the Look, so I fled to Paris and lived in Europe for several years.  I am glad I did.  
1966, Linda in a Betsey Johnson dress in Mademoiselle magazine.

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Update on Key West Hand Print Fabrics

I’ve written quite a bit about Key West Hand Print Fabrics in the past, especially concerning their relationship with Lilly Pulitzer.  For those of you who don’t know, for years Key West Hand Prints designed and made the distinctive fabrics Pulitzer used in her dresses.

Before 1961, Key West Hand Prints was a small fabric printing business in Key West, Florida, owned by Walter Starkey. The company made small printed linens, like tea towels. In 1961, Peter Pell and Jim Russell were visiting the island when they decided it was a good place to live. They bought Key West Hand Prints and hired a designer for the prints, Suzie Zuzek dePoo. 

On the other side of Florida, another entrepreneur was at work developing a line of tropical print dresses. Lilly Pulitzer had enlisted the services of a dressmaker to make dresses in loud prints that would cover juice stains she got while working in her family business, an orange grove and juice stand. So many customers at the stand asked about Pulitzer’s dresses that she saw an opportunity to make similar dresses for sale. She learned about Key West Hand Prints and visited the island to see if she could use the prints in her new line.

For the next fourteen years (or so, as I don’t have the exact dates), Key West Hand Print Fabrics designed and made the iconic Lilly Pulitzer fabrics. The little hand print business employed as many as two hundred people during this time, and they worked around the clock to keep up with demand. They were producing fabric not only for Lilly Pulitzer, but also for their own line of dresses, labeled “Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints” and for yardage that could be purchased in their Key West store. Vanda was designed by Virginia Peirce. 

Artist Suzie dePoo designed the prints, but the colors were worked out by others on the staff, including co-owner Peter Pell. Lilly Pulitzer would fly into Key West to visit with Pell and Russell and to pick out the fabrics for her next collection. They would spend the day involved in  business, and then they would retire to the bar to celebrate. 

It was a system that worked well until a new business manager hired by Pulitzer in 1976 or 77 ended the relationship between Lilly Pulitzer and Key West Hand Print Fabrics. It was a decision that ultimately harmed both businesses. Key West Hand Prints lost their largest customer, and the atmosphere of the business changed, especially for Peter Pell, who lost interest in the enterprise. Lilly Pulitzer prints changed, becoming more “fashionable” and less “Florida” and in 1984, Lilly shut down her business.

A lot of the information above was given to me by Jacq Staub, whose mother Jacquolyn was the in-house model and the merchandising manager for Key West Hand Print Fabrics. He has shared with me all these stories as well as some wonderful photos.  The model in all these photos is Jacq’s mother. In the photo at the top, Jacquolyn is modeling a caftan that was ordered for Elizabeth Taylor.

Key West Hand Prints was a casual, family business, though most of the staff were not actually related. Jacq refers to Pell and Russell as Uncle Peter and Uncle Jim, though they were actually his godfathers. The photo above was taken in Vanda’s design studio, and was used for the company’s catalog.

Here’s another look at that distinctive corner in Vanda’s studio. These photos were taken in the early 1970s.

This photo wasn’t dated, but the hairstyles sure are saying mid to late 1960s. Just when we thought men were going to loosen up in their clothing choices, Dress for Success came along and swept it all away.

Here’s Uncle Jim and Jacquolyn at a fashion show in 1973.

The designer holding onto Peter Pell? Lilly Pulitzer, of course! And how about those printed jeans?

So, where is Key West Hand Prints today? The owners are long gone, but Key West Fashions continued in business until 2007. The original screens used to make the prints and the dye formulations were bought by Ed Swift, who stored the items for years. It appears that these items have now been sold, with the new owner exploring the possibility of reopening the print business.

It also appears that there is also a book, exhibition, and film about Key West Hand Prints in the works. Behind this project is the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. It will be interesting to see how they tell the story, as many of the people involved with Key West Hand Print are still with us.  It’s a chance to tell the story of a unique American textile business that had a lasting influence on how we dress. 

My thanks to Jacq Staub for the photos and the stories.

 

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Key West Hand Prints: When It Looks Like a Lilly, But It’s Not

When I spotted this 1970s knit shirt recently, I immediately thought it was a Lilly Pulitzer.  But then I looked at the label and found that instead it was made by  Key West Hand Prints.

That was not surprising because Key West was the company that designed and screen-printed the fabrics for the Lilly Pulitzer company.

This print is so Lilly-like that I actually looked for the trademark “Lilly” that was contained within the prints designed for Pulitzer.   In a Lilly Pulitzer print the signature can often be found in flower pistils and stamens.  Many of the Lilly Pulitzer prints were designed by artist Suzie Zuzek Depoo, and it is likely that she designed the print for this shirt.

Prints like these, especially in such a simple style, can be hard to date.  It could be that this blouse is from the early 1980s, soon after Lisa Birnbach’s Official Preppy Handbook declared that pink and green was the prep color combo of choice.

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Vanda Fashions – Key West Hand Prints

It’s always fun when a vintage-loving friend emails all excited because of a new discovery.  The friend is Beth, or Mod Betty,  of RetroRoadmap, and her find was a super shift dress from Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints.  I’ve written about Key West Hand Prints before, mainly because they supplied the fabrics for early Lilly Pulitzer dresses.  But there is a lot more to the Key West Hand Print story, and Beth even supplied me with a newspaper article from 1977 which fills in the details.

Key West Hand Prints was started in 1961 by Peter Pell and Jim Russell, in Key West, Florida, of course.  Pell and Russell were in the theater business, and knew little about fabrics and screen prints, but they fell in love with Key West while on vacation there, and started the hand printing shop as a means of becoming residents of the island.  They began printing fabric which was being turned into tea towels and placemats, and they had soon hired a designer for the prints, Susie Zuzek DePoo.  These prints came to the attention of Lilly Pulitzer, who became a major customer of the small company.

But Pulitzer was not the only designer who used Key West fabrics.  Pell and Russell enlisted Virginia Peirce to design clothing for their store, using their fabric.  Peirce, a recently widowed grandmother, designed under the name “Vanda,” which was the name of her boat, and a cross of  Virginia and Albert, her late husband’s name.    Her designs look a lot like Lilly Pulitzer’s though most of the prints I’ve seen with this label, and with the Zuzek name on the selvage, have been in two colors, rather than the three or four usually seen in vintage Lilly prints.

Virginia was still at Key West Hand Prints in 1977.  At that time she was 78 years old and going strong.

The print, inspired by the sea, of course.

Vanda hem tape is the finishing touch!

And what about that handy cell phone pocket?

All photos courtesy of and copyright of Beth Lennon.  Do not copy.

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Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing