Meet Lilli…

As an avid vintage clothing collector and seller, I’ve come across numerous designer labels that were highly regarded back in the 50s and 60s, but have since fazed out. I’ve heard of the brand- Lilli Diamond and recently came across a couple of dresses where I work. My boss suggested that I do some research on the brand, which I happily obliged. I learned that Lilli was still living in California and I just HAD to meet with her during my recent trip.

On my last day in California, I sat down with THE Lilli Diamond, just one of the loveliest women one could ever meet. She gave me some insight on her life, career and the legendary fashion company and we vintage fans know and love.

The beginning:

She was born in Brooklyn. Her dream was to become a dancer. Through-out her childhood she took dancing lessons. When she was around 15 or 16, her dancing teacher had her fill in for a girl who had gotten sick, to dance at the night club with the rest of the dance troupe. She of course, said yes. That was the start of her dancing career. It wasn’t long after, when she decided she should go to Hollywood. She remembered saying, “Hollywood is where it’s at. That’s where you have to be!” She got on a bus for five nights. She briefly ended up staying at a relative’s home in Riverside, but found that it wasn’t close enough to her end goal. Soon after her parents found another relative for her to stay with that lived closer to Hollywood. She recalls, “I stayed with a distant relative for one night. The next day I started walking around and getting a feel of the neighborhood. I wanted to show Hollywood I was here…So a car starts to follow me…I got to where I was going. I went upstairs and he followed me. He introduced himself and then left. And when he left, I said, ‘Ohmigod, he is coming back!’ The people I was with asked, ‘How do you know?’ I replied, ‘I just know.’ He did. So that was the beginning… ” So they got married, had a child and started their life.

Lilli on the brand (which launched in the early 1950s):

“Al Diamond was a dress cutter in a dress factory. He decided one day that he didn’t have to be just a dress cutter, he could be the boss. So that’s what he did. He went to a design school and found a couple students that he thought had merit. He hired these students right out of school and had them make up a couple of samples. He went, by himself, to a trade show in San Francisco with samples. He didn’t have any money to rent a space at the show, so he just sat in the hall. As people walked by, he showed them the samples and they caught on. That’s how the business began. He came back and said, ‘We’re in business!’ He got a friend and they sat down together and contemplated naming the business. The friend said, ‘why don’t we call it Lilli Diamond?’ He did things that nobody else did in the business. He took risks. He never had inventory. While most of the factories used mannequins, he used live models. He would fit the garment to the girl, which was a big difference. He’d wait for the orders and they’d have the materials flown in, even though it was expensive. Still, it paid off to do it that way. So when the store’s buyers would come around, they’d just pick out what they wanted and then he would order the fabric. He just figured out the best way to do everything and that’s why he was successful. He was famous for fit. His cocktail attire was very dressy and sexy. He was smart, he was bright, he took risks and he had me.”

Lilli Diamond was sold at upscale boutiques across the country. The company flourished well into the 60s, until it was sold to Campus Casuals in 1965. Campus Casuals continued selling dresses with the Lilli Diamond label until the 80s.

Examples of Lilli Diamond Dresses:

(Image via Etsy, Image via 1st Dibs)

(Image via 1st Dibs, Image via 1st Dibs)

(Image via Davonna Juroe, Image via Etsy)

Lilli eventually got back into acting and took up competitive dancing. She actually appeared in the 1999 Miller Lite commercial- “SEANCE,” as the widow (seen below).

* Video via 2punchpikey’s YouTube *

Lilli’s advice:

“Trust. Honesty. You play your cards the way you wish they would fall/you wish they would happen… You play the game, you see the end result. If I do this and that, then this is going to happen…”

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