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Lilly Dache, 97; French Milliner, Trend-Setter

January 03, 1990

Lilly Dache, who came to the United States from France as a young woman and established herself at the forefront of the millinery world in an era where hats were a prime consideration of style, has died at a nursing home in Louvecienne, France.

She was 97 and died Sunday. Although she had been retired for many years, her name continued to be synonymous with hats, particularly the turbans she created by draping fabric directly onto her clients' heads and then creating a personal design based on what she and the customer envisioned.

Her annual showing of hats in this country came to be a highly anticipated event in the world of fashion. She visited the major department stores in the United States, charming fashion writers and store managers with her sparkle and chic accent. She often traveled with her husband, Jean Despres, an executive at Coty Inc., the cosmetics house. Most recently, she and Despres divided their time between homes in Delray Beach, Fla., and Meudon, France. Despres died last year.

Miss Dache's clientele over the years included such Hollywood stars as Audrey Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Loretta Young, Sonja Henie and Marlene Dietrich.

Like Coco Chanel, Miss Dache began as a milliner in her native France, then proceeded to fashion, cosmetics, furs, stockings, wigs, jewelry and even menswear. She became president of three cosmetics companies, Lilly Dache, Marie Earle and Lucien Lelong, all of which were later purchased by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

Her first job in this country came when she was only 16 and saw a help-wanted sign in a hat shop on Broadway in New York City. She and another woman eventually bought the shop. Their business boomed in the 1930s when Depression-era women found that they could afford a new hat even if they could not buy a dress.

Business prospered until the late 1950s when head wear gradually began to go out of style and she and her husband retired.

Survivors include a daughter and two grandchildren.

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