This being our fashion issue, we thought it apropos to profile Lily Samii of Novato, now celebrating her 40th year as a fashion designer. Starting as an apprentice to costume designer Edith Head in Hollywood, Samii eventually moved to Marin with her husband and in 1969 opened a 500-square-foot studio in Larkspur called L.Y.Z. “The rest is history,” as she says. This year also marks her first as a sponsor of the San Francisco Opera, and she looks forward to seeing her designs (on many Marin patrons) out in full force this season.
Why Marin? I have been living in Marin most of my life and have dressed second and third generations of Marin women. I have lived in Larkspur, Kentfield and now Novato. When I met my second husband, the only problem was that he lived in the Oakland hills. It took some convincing, but I got him to cross the bay to live in Marin.
Who inspired you to become a designer? As a young woman I admired Hollywood beauties such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly and I always wanted to dress women like them. Today, the women who are a source of inspiration for my line are real women who lead dynamic lives. They are multidimensional, prepared to transition from the boardroom to a luncheon, from their child’s school to a gala opening.
Do you remember the first dress you designed? I designed a wedding gown when I was 11 years old and I have never stopped.
Do you have a favorite memory of seeing one of your dresses on a client and thinking “Wow!”? I designed the gown that Joan Blondell wore to the Golden Globes when she won Best Supporting Actress for The Cincinnati Kid. I was 19 years of age and this was my first experience seeing my gown on television. It left a huge impression on me.
How would you describe Marin style? Marin style is very casual and outdoorsy.
Do you have a favorite fashion decade? Every decade with the exception of the ’80s.
What are the colors to look for this year? This year our collection focuses on colors that range from copper and burnt sienna to pewter and steel to patent and matte black.
Which color is always in fashion? Black, of course, but we always like to show this staple in a collection with color options.
Where do you like to shop in Marin? Since I work in the city and commute every day, I haven’t had the opportunity to check out stores in Marin recently, and I do most of my shopping in the city (purely for convenience).
Do you have a favorite restaurant? Buckeye is one of my favorites. We also like Boca in Novato and their new addition, Boca Pizzeria, is great too. And then we also love going to Panama Hotel and Vino Antica in San Rafael.
What is your favorite drink, and where do you like to drink it? Cosmos at Buckeye.
Favorite shoes for formal dresses? Rene Caovilla, because of the amazing combinations of color and texture, for the graceful heel lines, for the careful placement of straps and closures and finally because the ornamentation is such a perfect complement to our designs.
Is there a theme that you have maintained throughout your work? Feminine, timeless and effortless styles are a constant that we are known for. But with all things, we too are influenced by our surroundings: the changes in the art world, architecture, technology and even current events. We are constantly evolving, which is what keeps our design fresh.
Mimi Towle has been the editor of Marin Magazine for over a decade. She lived with her family in Sycamore Park and Strawberry and thoroughly enjoyed raising two daughters in the mayhem of Marin’s youth sports; soccer, swim, volleyball, ballet, hip hop, gymnastics and many many hours spent at Miwok Stables. Her community involvements include volunteering at her daughter’s schools, coaching soccer and volleyball (glorified snack mom), being on the board of both Richardson Bay Audubon Center. Currently residing on a floating home in Sausalito, she enjoys all water activity, including learning how to steer a 6-person canoe for the Tamalpais Outrigger Canoe Club. Born and raised in Hawaii, her fondness for the islands has on occasion made its way into the pages of the magazine.