How Couture Designer Lily Samii Built an International Fashion House From a Small Marin Boutique

Lily Samii fashion designer, marin area designer

“I can’t believe I’ve lived in Marin County for over 50 years,” Lily Samii remarks as she holds a set of blueprints in her hand. The always well-dressed designer has her dark hair pulled back in a neat ponytail.

“It seems like yesterday that I opened LYZ Ltd. in Larkspur. After my retirement and during the pandemic, I decided to occupy my days with other hobbies, including building a guesthouse from the ground up.”

While construction doesn’t seem to correlate with the refined world of fashion, it perfectly fits Lily Samii’s creative ethos. For decades, Lily has always been designing and building things of beauty.

Although Lily’s international career in fashion spans over 50 years, Lily dedicated most of those years to the women of Marin. Many know Lily Samii as the inspired genius behind LYZ Ltd. in Larkspur. It was considered one of the most successful retail boutiques in the country, with an impressive lifespan of 30 years. How Lily, a daughter of Iranian nobility, ended up in Larkspur’s wooded hamlet transforming homemakers into confident leaders through wardrobe changes is just one part of this fairy tale.

Lily Samii fashion designer, couture, sequin sash

Lily had a promising career in Hollywood. She interned with Edith Head and James Galanos. But one day while at work, she suffered from a terrible accident that left her with broken vertebrae and years of physical therapy. After months of rehab, Lily and her husband moved to the Bay Area. During that time, her husband accepted a job at the College of Marin and Lily also accepted a position in the art department at the college.

“While I was an assistant teacher in the art department, I asked my superior if I could use the pottery kilns after hours. I started making all sorts of things; within several weeks, I had a nice variety of items. I went to Sausalito on the weekends and sold my pottery in the open market. Soon, my pottery became very popular because of my vibrant and unique use of glaze. What was funny — keep in mind this is the late 60’s and the summer of love was in full bloom—everyone around me wore hippie garb, and there I was with my signature black cashmere turtleneck, black capris and flats, and a fancy little table in a sea of people sitting on the ground and displaying their goods on a blanket or colorful, tie-dyed, psychedelic throws. I started with pottery and ended up with a complete collection of sculptures, jewelry, and tee-shirts. They were hippie-inspired, but done in a controlled and very well-made process. My price points were much higher than anybody around me, yet my sales were solid. That’s when I had the epiphany—my calling is to create fashion that clients would covet, not just wear”,” Lily shares.

Lily Samii fashion designer, orange flowy dress, dress designs

The following summer started Lily on her meteoric course in the fashion industry. In early 1969, Lily met Alice Zimmerman. Alice declared that it was time for Lily to open her own boutique. After some convincing, Lily agreed, and LYZ was born in 1969 at 1020 Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur.

“I started with 500 square feet. LYZ was tucked away in a strip mall that had a dime store and a liquor store. Most of the ladies who ended up being LYZ clients noticed my tiny storefront as they were going or coming from the dime store with their children in tow. They would poke their heads into LYZ, and little by little, they got to know me. That’s how my beautiful LYZ got its start.”

What set LYZ apart from the usual clothing boutiques was Lily’s dedication to her “ladies.” When asked how she can look at one of her clients and know exactly what would look best on her body, Lily speaks like an artistic mathematician.

Lily Samii Fashion Designer, yellow elegant strapless dress

“I have a keen sense of scale, color, balance, and attitude that helps me know what will look good on a client,” she says. “I have the ability to see a person in motion and instinctively know what will work best for her body.” Lily explains the importance of her role in dressing her clients. “When a woman walked into LYZ, 80 percent of the time she wasn’t a size 6 or 8 and 5 feet, 11 inches tall. My client was a normal woman, probably 5 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 5 inches and an average size 14. My goal was to make my client feel beautiful in her clothes. I would interview each of my clients before I ever bought clothes for them. I needed to understand her life. I have had clients who’ve had mastectomies and wanted to feel feminine, politicians who wanted to feel confident in their clothes, and housewives who wanted to feel sexy.” Lily lights up, remembering all the wonderful clients who put their trust in her. “I knew what I wanted for each of my clients, and I went after it. On my buying trips to New York or Milan, I would pound the pavement and go and go until I found what I envisioned.”

Lily remembers the first time she went to Michael Kors’ showroom — before he was famous — on Twelfth Street in New York. He was young and had a small collection. Lily looked at it and thought it was perfect for Marin. This was a pattern that set her business apart from other clothing stores. She worked hard to discover new designers of the time, such as Armani, Louis Ferro, Oscar De La Renta, and many others.

LYZ grew, and Lily took a second retail space, then the third, then the fourth. When she expanded to a fifth retail space in the same complex, she decided it was time to renovate.

Lily Samii fashion designer, pink floral strapless dress

“So that is when I gutted the whole space and created a beautiful environment where we could host parties. Children could meet their mothers and grandmothers, husbands could stop by for a glass of wine and check out what their wives had picked up. It was a wonderful place where the beautiful women of Marin could gather,” Lily reminisces upon the incredible growth of LYZ and her loyal clientele.

In the mid-nineties, Lily wanted to design, build, and create more. So, after 30 years in Larkspur growing LYZ, Lily was ready to start her own label for women. She opened her showroom and her production studio in San Francisco and launched Lily Samii. For decades, Lily designed gowns for celebrities, royalty, political leaders, and society’s most coveted personalities. Her masterpieces adorned the covers of magazine, and every major magazine in the nation has written about Lily Samii’s collections.

Lily Samii fashion designer, green strapless dress

“I finally realized during my last remodel of my house what was the reason for the longevity and the success of my business model. I knew what I wanted, and if it didn’t exist, I was willing to find someone to design and make it for me. I believed that this is the same principle with my designs. If a woman wanted her special outfit in a certain color or style for her event, and no other designer offered it, that’s where I came in. We could create what she had envisioned and with the help of our incredible artisans throughout the world would create it for her.”

After 50 years as a beloved designer and curator of countless wardrobes, Lily put down her measuring tape and scissors and compiled her incredible history in the beautiful coffee table book, Lily Samii, A Journey Through Life and Fashion (published in 2020 by Lucia Marquand).

“Now that the book is published, I am enjoying my time in Marin. I can’t believe that I’ve lived here for so long and haven’t had the time to enjoy all the beautiful trails and hidden lakes and reconnecting with some of my old friends. It seems like no time has passed.”

Lily likes to keep busy, so she has parceled off a part of her 2-acre homestead in the rolling hills of Novato and is building a guesthouse. When asked about managing the new house’s construction, Lily shares that she has an uncanny ability to see beyond a structure and enjoys the challenge.

“I see things from inside out. Like now that I am building, I see beyond the frame. I see the layers and layers that go into building a home. I slice it up and take it apart and then put it back together. I deconstruct things in my head. It’s how I think when doing alterations, creating wardrobes for clients, and designing gowns. Now I am putting my talent to use by building a new home,” Lily explains as she walks past the grapevines lining her backyard, leading to the flags outlining the new house’s walls. So, what’s next for this intrepid renaissance soul who has continued to redefine herself throughout her life?

“I think I’m ready to write my next book.”

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