“Growing up with Granny and being so close with her was enough,” photographer Chris Leidy says of his grandmother, Lilly Pulitzer. “I didn’t need to put on the floral prints to feel any closer.”
The single 34-year-old splits his time between Palm Beach, New York (where he’s opening a gallery in Chelsea), and the far-flung destinations to which he travels for underwater shoots. Next month, for example, he’s heading to the Arctic, where he’ll be diving under the ice with narwhals.
“I’ve basically gone to every tropical region on the planet, but I’ve never done subzero temperatures before, says Leidy, whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and Condé Nast Traveler.
You won’t find floral Lilly prints in Leidy’s wardrobe, perhaps because the photographer needs as much space as possible for his shoes. He has a built-in closet specifically for his large collection.
“I’m not really doing the bright color thing,” he says. Although he is used to “dressing to the nines in black tie,” he prefers ripped jeans and Converse sneakers: “I just spent an arm and a leg at 3×1 in the city getting custom denim jackets and pants. I like to create my own little style, which I’d describe as kind of edgy funk. I don’t like to be just another.”
In that sense, he’s a lot like his grandmother. Born in New York in the 1930s, Lillian McKim attended Miss Porter’s School (with future First Lady Jackie Kennedy) before moving to Kentucky, where she worked for the Frontiers Nurses Service. She eloped with Peter Pulitzer and moved to Florida, where Pulitzer owned several orange groves. Lilly sold oranges to restaurants in their new home of Palm Beach and also opened a juice stand just off Worth Avenue.
She designed a sleeveless shift dress out of bright cotton that could camouflage the stains she was getting on her clothes from squeezing oranges. Soon she began selling more dresses than juice, and Pulitzer opened stores in resort towns up and down the East Coast.
“She was a big advocate of being your own person and having your own style,” Leidy says. “She definitely stepped out of the box with her prints.”
The photographer says that while he feels a sense of pride about his grandmother’s clothing when he sees people wearing it, he and Pulitzer, who died at 81 in 2013, shared a different bond.
“We were super close, Granny and I, and it was a relationship that spawned a lot of creativity. We would cook together,” he says, noting that she was a “crazy good cook” who made a favorite dish he called the Granny Special.
He says that she loved his work that she and his mother, Liza Pulitzer, were and are his “two greatest advocates and fans.”
“They pushed me to follow my heart, follow my passion, and step out of the box, and push myself creatively—taking what inspiration I find and putting my own touch on it.”
Lilly would be proud.
Leidy’s first New York show opens April 21 at his gallery at 149 West 22nd Street.
[H/T New York Post]