There's love. There's obsession. And then there's Lilly.
Fans of the famously bright and perkily patterned Lilly Pulitzer casual wear are in a category all their own when it comes to how they feel about their pink-and-green clothes.
So much so that when the company sends out mailers twice a year, inviting diehard customers to come to King of Prussia, Pa., and shop till they drop, women don't just come - they descend on the sale, sometimes days in advance. And they camp out, on the sale-room floor, U2-groupie-style.
"Is your adrenaline rushing?! Are you ready?" Lauren Kreter, 24, asks her friend Kristin Williams at 4:15 one morning last week, after they had rolled up their air mattresses, rubbed their teeth with Oral B Brush-Ups, and prepared to stand in the line of hundreds of Lilly lovers, awaiting the 5 a.m. sale's opening. "Ohmigod, I love [Lilly]," Kreter continues. "I'm obsessed with it! I have the Lilly bedroom. Everything!"
And still, Kreter, of Wilton, Conn., needed more Lilly. There's never, it seems, such a thing as enough Lilly.
Such is the case with the thousands of Lilly customers who would come to the Valley Forge Convention Center over four days for discounts, expanded selections, samples and shared zeal.
They came from all over - some as far as California - and slept on air mattresses with Lilly sheets and cushioned lawn chairs. Some carried mini DVD players and board games. Others brought crafts to sell. Tammi Molavi of Millersville baked chocolate chip cookies to bring to the slumber party.
"For us, it's just sort of a girls' getaway," says Molavi, 34, who was with several friends.
Lori Evans, 33, of Durham N.C., had the high honor of being the very first person to grab a coveted entrance number into the sale. She's 8 1/2 months pregnant, but that didn't stop her from arriving at 7 a.m. the day before the sale doors opened.
She and friends Tricia High and Kristin Teer were going to be the first three to get in, and no one was going to stop them, dang it. Lilly Pulitzer clothes are happy! happy! clothes. But the unadvertised sale is Not. About. Nice.
"It's like an old-woman sorority brawl in there," says Teer, 35. "We're all friends out here, but then, in there, you'll elbow somebody right in the eye."
"Last year I got punched," Lauren Kreter says.
The sheer size of the makeshift store Lilly owners Scott Beaumont and Jim Bradbeer set up twice a year is enough to make even the sanest suburban mom lose it.
Susanne Seidman of Alexandria, Va., remembers her first time entering the sale.
"We walked around for 45 minutes before we could even shop. It was like, 'Ohmigod! It's nirvana!' " Seidman says.
Pink and green as far as the eye can see. Prints with names like "Scuba Monkey."
At the end of the day, satisfied but slightly less perky Lilly lovers surrendered their credit cards to cashiers (sometimes their checks and cash, too, to sidestep questioning husbands). The totals were staggering: $1,220.22. $1,769.28. $835.44. $1,107.44.
"The biggest one I had was over $5,000," says Patty Mutzel, one of 30 cashiers. "And they don't blink an eye."
Meanwhile, Lilly President Bradbeer stood by and smiled at the merry mayhem his sale had sparked.
"This is a gathering of people who love Lilly, more than a sale," he says. "There's a sorority aspect to it. These people are friends. It speaks to the brand. That's why Lilly has survived and endured all these years."