Liz Claiborne

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Liz Claiborne
Liz Claiborne (fashion designer).jpg
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)
Liz Claiborne

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 then in Catonsville, Maryland, and currently in Stevenson, Maryland.

Rather than finishing high school, Claiborne went to Europe to study art in the studios of painters.[3] Her father did not believe that she needed an education, so she studied art informally.[3]


In 1949, Claiborne won the Jacques Heim National Design Contest (sponsored by Harper's Bazaar),[4][page needed][ISBN missing] and then moved to Manhattan where she worked for years in the Garment District on Seventh Avenue,[3] as a sketch artist at the sportswear house, Tina Leser. She also worked for the former Hollywood costume designer turned fashion designer, Omar Kiam.[5] She worked as a designer for Dan Keller and Youth Group Inc.[6]

Liz Claiborne Inc.[edit]

Claiborne became frustrated by the failure of the companies that employed her to provide clothes for working women, so, with 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.[6] By 1988, it had acquired one-third of the American women's upscale sportswear market.[3]

Marketing strategies 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).[7] Liz Claiborne Inc. went public in 1981 and made the Fortune 500 list in 1986 with retail sales of $1.2 billion.[6]

Claiborne listed all employees in her corporate directory in alphabetical order, to circumvent what she perceived as male hierarchies.[3] She controlled meetings by ringing a glass bell and became famous for her love of red—"Liz Red".[3] She sometimes would pose as a saleswoman to see what average women thought of her clothes.[3]

Personal life, retirement, and death[edit]

Claiborne's first marriage was to Ben Shultz; it ended in divorce.[8] In 1957, she married her co-worker, textile executive[8] Arthur Ortenberg (who survived her death, himself dying in 2014).[9] She had a son from her first marriage, Alexander G. Schultz, and two stepchildren from her second marriage, Neil Ortenberg and Nancy Ortenberg.[1][8]

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.[8][9] 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.[8] Liz Claiborne died on June 26, 2007, at the age of 78, following a long battle with the cancer.[10]

Jerome Chazen became the company's chairman in 1989 and held that role until 1996, when Paul Charron became chairman and C.E.O. and held that position until 2006. On May 15, 2012, Liz Claiborne Inc. officially became Fifth & Pacific, Inc., shifted focus, launched new brands, and began marketing directly to customers. The original brand was sold.


  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. ^ a b c d e f g "Liz Claiborne". The Economist. July 5, 2007. Retrieved July 18, 2007. Almost every woman knows the feeling. You get into the lift, and a very important woman in your office enters after you, talking to a very important man. She is impeccable, from polished court shoes to understated earrings. You are not. You are wearing trainers, because you want to be comfortable on city pavements, and a blouse that doesn't quite match the skirt because the one that matched better was too grubby round the neck when you went to find it. Nothing is ironed, and there is a faint stain on the skirt that is yesterday's lunchtime soup ineffectually rubbed off with a Kleenex.
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition. Kenneth T. Jackson, Lisa Keller, Nancy Flood. Yale University Press, December 1, 2010
  5. ^ Woo, Elaine (June 28, 2007). "Liz Claiborne, 78; clothes designer for career women built vast fashion empire". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 13, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Dow, Sheila, ed. (2002). "Liz Claiborne". Business Leader Profiles for Students. Detroit: Gale. 1: 150–153.
  7. ^ Binkley, Christina (July 2, 2014). "Women in Power Know Nina". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e 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.
  9. ^ a b Lockwood, Lisa (February 4, 2014). "Arthur Ortenberg Dies". Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  10. ^ "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...

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]