Liz Claiborne

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Liz Claiborne
Liz Claiborne, fashion designer.jpg
Claiborne in 1982
Anne Elisabeth Jane Claiborne

(1929-03-31)March 31, 1929
DiedJune 26, 2007(2007-06-26) (aged 78)
EducationFine Arts School and Painters Studio, Belgium (1947)
Nice Academy (1948)
LabelLiz Claiborne
  • Ben Shultz (m. 1950; div. 1954)
  • Arthur Ortenberg (m. 1957)
RelativesJennifer Farber (niece)

Anne Elisabeth Jane Claiborne (March 31, 1929 – June 26, 2007) was an American fashion designer and businesswoman. Her success was built upon stylish yet affordable apparel for career women featuring colorfully tailored separates that could be mixed and matched. Claiborne is best known for co-founding Liz Claiborne Inc., which in 1986 became the first company founded by a woman to make the Fortune 500 list.[1] Claiborne was the first woman to become chair and CEO of a Fortune 500 company.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Claiborne was born in Brussels to American parents. She came from a prominent Louisiana family with an ancestor, William C. C. Claiborne, who served as Louisiana's first governor after statehood, during the War of 1812.[1]

In 1939, at the start of World War II, the family returned to New Orleans.[1] Claiborne attended St. Timothy's School for Girls, a small boarding school in Maryland. She and her sisters attended Mountain Lakes High School in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey.[3]

Rather than finishing high school, Claiborne went to Europe to study art in the studios of painters.[4] Her father did not believe that she needed an education, so she studied art informally.[4]


In 1949, Claiborne won the Jacques Heim National Design Contest (sponsored by Harper's Bazaar),[5][page needed][ISBN missing] and then moved to Manhattan where she worked for years in the Garment District on Seventh Avenue,[4] as a sketch artist at Tina Leser, the sportswear producer. She also worked for the former Hollywood costume designer-turned-fashion designer, Omar Kiam.[6] She worked as a designer for the Dan Keller and Youth Group Inc. fashion labels.[7]

Liz Claiborne Inc.[edit]

Claiborne became frustrated by the failure of the companies that employed her to provide practical clothes for working women, so, with husband Art Ortenberg, Leonard Boxer, and Jerome Chazen, she launched her own design company, Liz Claiborne Inc., in 1976.[1] It was an immediate success, with sales of $2 million in 1976 and $23 million in 1978.[7] By 1988, it had acquired one-third of the American women's upscale sportswear market.[4]

Marketing strategies that Claiborne developed changed the nature of retail stores. For example, Claiborne insisted that her line of clothing be displayed separately, as a department to itself and including all of the items she offered. This was the first time customers were able to select many types of clothing articles by brand name alone in one location of a department store. That tradition for the grouping of special brands has become the typical arrangement for name brands in contemporary stores.

In 1980, Liz Claiborne Accessories was founded through employee Nina McLemore (who decades later would launch a label of her own, in 2001).[8] Liz Claiborne Inc. went public in 1981 and made the Fortune 500 list in 1986 with retail sales of $1.2 billion.[7]

Claiborne listed all employees in her corporate directory in alphabetical order, to circumvent what she perceived as male hierarchies.[4] She controlled meetings by ringing a glass bell and became famous for her love of red—"Liz Red".[4] She sometimes would pose as a saleswoman to see what average women thought of her clothes.[4]

Personal life, retirement, and death[edit]

Claiborne's first marriage was to Ben Shultz; it ended in divorce in 1954, after she met Arthur Ortenberg.[9] In 1957, she and her now co-worker, Arthur (1926 - 2014) married.[10] She had a son from her first marriage, Alexander G. Shultz, and two stepchildren from her second marriage, Neil Ortenberg and Nancy Ortenberg.[1][11]

Claiborne retired from active management in 1989. By that stage, she had acquired other companies, notably Kayser-Roth, which produced Liz Claiborne accessories.[1] Her husband retired at the same time, leaving the other founders as the active managers.

In retirement, Claiborne and Ortenberg established a foundation that distributed millions in funding to environmental causes, including funding the television series Nature on PBS[1] and nature conservancy projects around the world.[11][10] She received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.[2]

Claiborne had been advised in May 1997 that she had a rare form of cancer affecting the lining of the abdomen.[11] She died of the cancer on June 26, 2007, at the age of 78.[12]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 1990 - National Business Hall of Fame, sponsored by Junior Achievement
  • 1991 - National Sales Hall of Fame
  • 1991 - Honorary Doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design
  • 1993 - Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement[13]
  • 2000 - Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Bernstein, Adam (June 28, 2007). "Liz Claiborne, 78; Fashion Industry Icon". Washington Post. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Liz Claiborne, 78, an American fashion designer who built a billion-dollar apparel enterprise by clothing career women in stylish but casual outfits at moderate prices, died June 26 at New York Presbyterian Hospital.... An immediate hit, the business broke within a decade into Fortune magazine's list of the 500 largest companies in the United States. Her company was the first started by a woman to make the prestigious list.
  2. ^ a b "MADE Programs: Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg". School of Business Administration, University of Montana. Archived from the original on May 31, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  3. ^ Ortenberg, Art. Liz Claiborne: The Legend, The Woman, p. 108. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. ISBN 9781589794948. Accessed August 27, 2020. "They all returned to the United States at the outbreak of the war; all three of the Claiborne children had attended Mountain Lakes High School in New Jersey. Liz, of the three, did not graduate."
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Liz Claiborne". The Economist. July 5, 2007. Retrieved July 18, 2007.
  5. ^ The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition. Kenneth T. Jackson, Lisa Keller, Nancy Flood. Yale University Press, December 1, 2010
  6. ^ Woo, Elaine (June 28, 2007). "Liz Claiborne, 78; clothes designer for career women built vast fashion empire". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 13, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Dow, Sheila, ed. (2002). "Liz Claiborne". Business Leader Profiles for Students. Detroit: Gale. 1: 150–153.
  8. ^ Binkley, Christina (July 2, 2014). "Women in Power Know Nina". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  9. ^ "Liz Claiborne Obituary". The Guardian. July 2020.
  10. ^ a b Lockwood, Lisa (February 4, 2014). "Arthur Ortenberg Dies". Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  11. ^ a b c Wilson, Eric (June 27, 2007). "Liz Claiborne, designer, Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Liz Claiborne, the designer of indefatigable career clothes for professional women entering the workforce en masse beginning in the 1970s, died Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 78. Her death, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, was caused by complications of cancer, said Arthur Ortenberg, her husband. Ms. Claiborne learned in 1997 that she had a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen.
  12. ^ "Sportswear designer Liz Claiborne dead at 78". Reuters. June 27, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2007. Apparel designer Liz Claiborne, who founded a namesake women's sportswear label that grew into a multibillion-dollar global empire, has died at age 78, the company said on Wednesday. Claiborne was ailing from cancer and died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital...
  13. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  14. ^ "Liz Claiborne - CFDA". Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chazen, Jerome A. "Notes from the apparel industry: Two decades at Liz Claiborne." Columbia Journal of World Business 31.2 (1996): 40–43.
  • Dalby, Jill S., and M. Therese Flaherty. "Liz Claiborne, Inc. and Ruentex Industries, Ltd." Harvard Business School, Case 9 (1990): 690–748.
  • Daria, Irene. The Fashion Cycle: A Behind the Scenes Look at a Year with Bill Blass, Liz Claiborne, Donna Karan, Arnold Scaasi, and Adrienne Vittadini (Simon and Schuster, 1990).
  • Siggelkow, Nicolaj. "Change in the presence of fit: The rise, the fall, and the renaissance of Liz Claiborne." Academy of Management Journal 44.4 (2001): 838–857. Highly influential article online.

External links[edit]