Liz Claiborne built a fashion empire by taking career women out of uptight suits and offering them a selection of affordable, stylish and colorful separates. She is acclaimed for revolutionising the retail format and the way women shopped.
In 1949 Liz Claiborne’s sketch of a women’s coat won a design competition sponsored by Harper’s Bazaar and she began working in New York as a design assistant and model. During the Fifties she designed sportswear, dresses, and tailored clothing. Her experience was extensive. She worked in the Garment District on Seventh Avenue as a sketch artist at sportswear house, Tina Leser. In a few years, she worked for designer Omar Kiam and later as a designer for Dan Keller and Youth Group Inc.
Frustrated by the lack of stylish workwear, Liz Claiborne, along with her husband Art Ortenberg, Leonard Boxer and Jerome Chazen, launched her eponymous brand in 1976. Per CFDA: “Liz Claiborne, Inc. was founded in 1976 with approximately $250,000, including $50,000 of Claiborne and her husband’s savings. Ortenberg was the company’s secretary and treasurer; industry executive and friend Leonard Boxer handled production; and Jerome Chazen joined the company in 1977 to run the company’s marketing operations.”
Claiborne returned to the first principle of the shirtwaist – feminine fabrics and colour combined with masculine simplicity of use and drew from her extensive experience in designing in sportswear, to clothe “busy and active women like myself… who dress in a rush and who weren’t perfect.” Her debut was a collection of moderately priced separates that combined style with functionality and high quality… and introduced the American woman to modern workwear.
The fashion brand was an immediate success with reported sales of $2 million in the year of its launch and $23 million in 1978. “Her sensibility and her view of the American woman was a heartbeat ahead of the American woman” retail consultant David Wolfe told Reuters. “She was ready and waiting when the American woman grew up.”
In a decade, the fashion brand acquired one-third of the American women’s luxury sportswear market. Claiborne’s success can be attributed to her perception of her customers’ needs. She insisted her line of clothing be displayed separately- as a department in itself. “The concept was to dress the American working woman because I, as a working woman with a child, didn’t want to spend hours shopping” she told WWD. “Things should be easy. You don’t have to dress in that little navy blue suit with a tie. I wanted to dress her in sportier clothes and colours.”
In 1980, Liz Claiborne Accessories was founded and a year later Liz Claiborne Inc. went public. Within a few years after the first shares of stock in Liz Claiborne, Inc., Claiborne added shoes, menswear and fragrances to the product portfolio. The growth continued despite the recession of the early Eighties when other fashion brands were suffering. The reason, she explained in Forbes, “the Liz lady still works for a living… She hasn’t been laid off from her executive job, and she needs and buys clothing. So, stores are still planning big increase despite all the doom and gloom.”
In 1986- when company sales reached $1.2 billion– it joined the list of Fortune magazine’s five hundred largest industrial companies in the United States, one of only two companies on the list that had been started by a woman. That year.. Claiborne, who was company President, became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Per Forbes, an example of the success Liz Claiborne has had in integrating new lines is its 1999 acquisition of Segrets, which, like Ellen Tracy, sells women’s sportswear at prices a notch above Claiborne’s other lines.
Claiborne retired from active management in 1989 to focus on charity.. mainly Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation which funded several conservation management and education programs worldwide. Her husband retired at the same time. In 1990 Liz Claiborne and her husband were elected to the National Business Hall of Fame. Liz Claiborne was elected to the National Sales Hall of Fame in 1991 and she received an honorary doctorate degree from Rhode Island School of Design the same year.
Fashion designer Liz Claiborne envisioned an individual retail space where her affordably priced, stylish yet functional womenswear separates and accessories could be displayed so women did not have to spend too much time shopping. In that era it revolutionised the retail format.
To design apparel and accessories for the fashionable person, using the latest in design and fashion technology.
New York-based fashion brand Liz Claiborne retails womenswear and accessories that are stylish, functional and yet affordably priced. It was a boon to working women everywhere. After the first shares of stock in Liz Claiborne, Inc., went on sale in 1981, it added menswear footwear and perfume to the product portfolio.
Despite setbacks, the company acquired over forty brands — including Juicy Couture, Narciso Rodriguez, Lucky Brand Jeans, Dana Buchman and Ellen Tracy. In her lifetime, Liz Claiborne was honoured with several prestigious titles including National Sales Hall of Fame 1991; Honorary Doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design 1991’ Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement 1993; Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award 2000 and Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.