We use first-principles quantum-chemical approaches to study absorption and emission properties of recently synthesized distyrylbenzene (DSB) derivative chromophores and their dimers (two DSB molecules linked through a [2.2]paracyclophane moiety). Several solvent models are applied to model experimentally observed shifts and radiative lifetimes in Stokes nonpolar organic solvents (toluene) and water. The molecular environment is simulated using the implicit solvation models, as well as explicit water molecules and counterions. Calculations show that neither implicit nor explicit solvent models are sufficient to reproduce experimental observations. The contact pair between the chromophore and counterion, on the other hand, is able to reproduce the experimental data when a partial screening effect of the solvent is taken into account. Based on our simulations we suggest two mechanisms for the excited-state lifetime increase in aqueous solutions. These findings may have a number of implications for organic light-emitting devices, electronic functionalities of soluble polymers and molecular fluorescent labels, and their possible applications as biosensors and charge/energy conduits in nanoassemblies.