Lilly Daché was born in France in 1904. After leaving school at thirteen, she moved to Paris where she trained under her aunt, Caroline Reboux, the “Queen of the Milliners.” Lilly remained with her for nearly five years, eventually moving to the United States and finally relocating to New York City in 1924. She worked briefly as a salesgirl at Macy’s before finding a job in a millinery shop, and by 1926, Lilly had saved enough money to buy the business. Later in life, Lilly recalled the first hat she made after buying the shop: a turban made of blue velvet scraps that had been lying on the counter.
It was a time when women almost always wore a hat, and many women would often opt for a new hat instead of a new dress when funds were scarce. Lilly’s designs were innovative and interesting, and attracted the Hollywood crowd, including Audrey Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Marlene Dietrich, and Carmen Miranda.
Some of her most innovative creations included: cloche hats, colored snoods, brimmed half-hats with flowers, veils and bows, woven hats made of unique materials including twine, glass and lucite, and fashionable turbans which were draped right on her customers’ heads. By the 1930s she was also producing handbags to match.
In 1931, Lilly married French-born Jean Despres, an executive at Coty, Inc., a large cosmetics and fragrance company. Together they adopted a daughter, Suzanne, who would also go on to become a milliner. For all accounts they lived a happy life together.
In 1937, Lilly moved her shop to a nine story building on East 56th Street, where she combined retail sales and wholesale trade, with a large workroom and her own personal space. By this point, yearly production estimates indicated that her business was producing nearly 30,000 hats a year, and she opened shops in Chicago and Miami Beach. With the onset of World War II, Lilly realized that millinery might not continue in fashion indefinitely, and so she began to experiment with alternatives. Shortly after World War II, Lilly began designing dresses, accessories including lingerie, gloves, and hosiery, and perfumes.
Lilly was somewhat of a unique personality, often conducting business from her bed, wrapped in a leopard skin, or from her bath, covered in bubbles. She dictated letters, purchased supplies, instructed staff, designed new hats and garments, and even interviewed employees from her personal quarters. She took to wearing leopard skin slippers adorned with tiny bells and multi layered bangle bracelets so that her approach was always apparent. Her showroom was an extension of her uniqueness. She had separate areas where clients would be fitted based on coloring or status: brunette clientele were guided to a fitting room decorated in shimmering silver; blondes were escorted into dressing rooms of gleaming gold, all intended to showcase her creations and her clients in the most favorable light possible. Even wholesalers were treated to a circular room surrounded by tufted pink satin.
Towards the end of the 1950’s she took on a talented young assistant from Chicago, Roy Halston Frowick, who later went on to become one of the premier fashion designers of the 1970s.
Lilly continued to design millinery throughout the 1960’s. Although she remained actively interested in fashion, art and interior design Lilly finally retired in 1968 leaving her daughter, Suzanne, the business. Lilly Daché died on December 31, 1989, in France.
Fashion Model Directory. LILLY DACHÉ. [Online]. Available: http://www.fashionmodeldirectory.com/designers/lilly-dache/
Encyclopedia of Fashion. Lilly DachÉ. [Online]. Available: http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/Ch-Da/Dach-Lilly.html