Obituary: Liz Conover, 71, long-time Darien resident, formidable force in fashion
Long time Darien Resident Liz Conover was a formidable force in fashion for more than 50 years. She was known for her exquisite eye, her keen instincts, and her ability to forecast market trends. She died in New York City on Monday August 29, 2016, at the age of 71, after living two years with lung cancer.
Her career combined a love for retail with a deep understanding of people. She knew the feelings of the woman who bought a handbag – which Liz had brought to life in every aspect, from its design inspiration through production in Italy. She felt the emotion behind a couple’s purchase of a unique hand-made set of dishes created by an artisan she had discovered in France. Her insights, combined with sharp business acumen, resulted in remarkable financial returns for the fashion companies she ran.
Carolee Friedlander, Jewelry designer and CEO of Access Circles said of Liz: “Liz Conover was one of the most successful, compassionate and beloved leaders in the world of retail. Her brilliance, drive and strategic wisdom allowed her to reach the highest levels of success not only in the world of retail, but also to build a new career in exclusive villa development in her beloved Riviera Maya. She will be missed by all who knew her”
Liz Conover started her career in the ‘60s in retail at Bullock’s Department Store in California. From there she went to work for The Emporium and I. Magnin where she quickly became a senior manager of Contemporary Sportswear. After a stellar career in retail that spanned some twenty years, Liz met Susie Tompkins, the founder of Esprit, and joined the company to design, launch and oversee the Handbag and Accessories Division. “Esprit was fun times” said Tomkins-Buell. “Liz was an amazing person to work with and was always in the forefront of trends”.
In 1986, Liz moved to New York to join the Ferragamo family business. She led the Handbag and Accessories Division and launched new lines for the venerable Italian fashion company. She worked very closely with the late-Fiamma Ferragamo in Florence, Italy, and incorporated the sense of international flair she learned there as legacy she brought to subsequent positions. In the early 1990s, Liz took the helm of Etienne Aigner’s handbag division. She gave new life to a faltering business by transforming the stodgy designs into modern, cutting- edge handbags that sold well and generated unparalleled profits in that division. Soon after, Liz was hired to become CEO of Paloma Picasso’s Handbag and Accessory business world-wide. The sense of mutual admiration between Liz and Paloma Picasso was reflected in their peerless creations. Liz was then asked to launch the handbag division for Tommy Hilfiger where she oversaw the creation of a new line of business.
Liz spent the next five years as a consultant to designers and CEOs of small companies who were eager to streamline their businesses and gain a better understanding of the market and its fast moving millennial market trends. In 2006, Takashimaya New York – the esteemed standard of fine taste -- requested that Liz join the company as Executive Director of their US operation. In summarizing Liz’s Takashimaya experience, an article titled “East Meets West” written in 2007, stated: “At Manhattan's luxurious Takashimaya, Liz Conover helped take Asian-inspired elegance and simplicity to new heights”. The article went on to say “Takashimaya New York is a boutique — a delicate and edited mix of goods, flowers, clothing, crafts and a tea room. The store exudes serenity and energy, warmth and shine, magnificence and simplicity. Like Liz, it is elegant and accessible at the same time.”
Even in the midst of her success in the fashion industry, Liz was embarking on a new career path. In 2001, she and her husband, Architect Udi Saly, sought to introduce luxury where it barely existed, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Villas inspired by Liz and designed by Udi became the standard for livable luxury. Her creations were canvases for the application of bold colors, and showcases for exquisite furnishings. Surrounded by palm trees, glistening pools, and the Caribbean Sea, the villas became so revered on the Riviera Maya that they became the models for fifteen stunning, privately-owned Mexican retreats, built by Udi and impeccably designed by Liz, including their own aptly named villa, “Infinity.”
Labeled a “tastemaker” by the fashion trade press, Liz Conover has been quoted as a consultant in various business outlets, including Fast Company, Fortune, and Accessories Magazine. Throughout her career she was active in charitable and industry-related organizations, and was also a founding board member of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, the Fashion Roundtable, and Fashion Group International. A mentor since her early years in California, she found further outlet for that passion while working with the Esteem Team for Teens in NYC.
Born in California and a graduate of San Jose University. She is survived by four siblings and her beloved husband, Udi Saly, her loving Mexican rescue street-dog Fini, and her rescue cat CatMandoo. Liz was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2014. She kept tending to her beloved gardens overlooking Holly Pond in Darien. She continued to shine her light energy on her surroundings, she gave hope and support to others, she never once complained and remained always there for the new and older friendships she has had over the years. She danced, loved every moment and spread good energy all around. Her last words written on an iPad while unable to speak at the hospital were “OCEAN” and “GIFT”. She asked that her ashes be scattered in the waves of the Caribbean Sea and instructed her husband to gift the staff who maintain their villa and care for their beloved animals. Her heart then stopped at 3:40 PM that same day, on Monday the 29th of August 2016. She will be missed, but her spirit will guide all who have known her and all who have been touched by her life.