Lily's latest label
Lily Samii was happy just being a retailer, carrying such labels as Giorgio Armani, Escada and Louis Feraud at LYZ, the Marin County boutique she launched 25 years ago.
Then came grunge.
The street-influenced styles of grunge shown by many top designers weren't likely to play to Samii's more traditional customer. "When we went into the grunge period, my buying trips were disasters," Samii says. "I couldn't come up with anything. My budget to buy was untouched when I came back from the trips."
Samii had to improvise. Two years ago, preparing for a charity fashion show to be sponsored by her boutique in Larkspur, she decided to supplement what little she ordered from New York and Europe with a few styles she designed herself. To her surprise, her own pieces proved to be bestsellers.
Thus began Lily Samii, a line of better-priced, special-occasion apparel that she now sells in LYZ as well as to other specialty stores. Since launching the collection a year ago, Samii has rung up $1 million in orders from Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and smaller specialty stores such as Marissa in Naples, Fla., and Mary Jane Benzer in White Plains, N.Y. About 60 percent of the sales at LYZ are generated from Lily Samii. Wholesale prices range from $250 for a silk blouse to $2,500 for a panné velvet gown. One of Samii's design inspirations is today's mother of the bride.
"I was looking at the mothers of the bride who would never be caught dead in chiffons and beaded stuff," Samii says. "They look like their daughters' sisters, not their mothers. They want to look smart."
Business has been so strong that Samii recently moved her design studios from her Magnolia Avenue store in Larkspur to San Francisco. The new studio, located on Second Street in the South of Market district, includes design, sample-making and some production facilities.
"I had no idea this would get so big so fast," Samii admits. "I'm really doing this as a challenge, and I like helping other retailers. I know how frustrated they have been the past few seasons."

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