Catalog Entrepreneur Lillian Vernon Passes Away at 88
On December 14, Lillian Vernon, famous for her catalogs of the same name, passed away at 88 years old.
Lillian Vernon was originally born Lilli Menasche in Leipzig, Germany, in 1927. When Hitler rose to power, she fled Germany with her family to Amsterdam and later headed to America.
In 1951, Vernon began a mail-order business in her home, selling personalized goods for reasonable prices. The business took off, and according to her obituary in the New York Times, "At one time [Lillian Vernon] had nine catalogs, 15 outlet stores, two websites, a business-to-business division and yearly revenue close to $300 million."
Lillian Vernon was also the first company listed on the American Stock Exchange that was owned by a woman. Her catalog's success came largely from the wide variety of easily personalizable items (which were usually monogrammed for free) that were also shipped within days, rather than weeks. Vernon's catalog became such a household name, MadTv even aired skits poking fun at her wares. She had a keen sense of practicality and design, often presenting her readers with exactly what they wanted, before they even knew they wanted it.
My mother was one such reader, and I still have my monogrammed beach towel and several packs of personalized pencils. Lillian Vernon will certainly be missed, and you can read her full obituary from the New York Times by clicking this link.