Liz Claiborne [Buy]10/05/2013 11:28:40
Liz Claiborne By Olivia Barker, USA TODAY Liz Claiborne, the American sportswear pioneer whose career-minded separates prepared a generation of women for the workforce, died Tuesday in New York. She was 78 and had been battling cancer. When the Belgian-born Claiborne co-founded her company in 1976, she "understood the needs of women entering the workplace: to look feminine among men," says Merrill Greene, creative director at Stylesight, an online fashion forecasting company, and former brand strategist at Liz Claiborne. "In that way, she was quite politically important at the birth of the women's movement" into the work world. VIDEO: Fashion icon Liz Claiborne dies In the early '70s, a career woman's clothing options were largely limited to starchy suits and blazers. Claiborne, on the other hand, "was able to create career wear that was classic yet fresh. It wasn't boring," says Joanne Arbuckle, dean of art and design at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "And it was at the right price point" neither bridge nor mass market which made the clothes appealing and accessible to the mainstream professionals who became her core customers. As a wife, mother and top executive of a successful company, "she was, in essence, her own best customer," says Nandini D'Souza, senior fashion features editor at W magazine. She showed working women "they didn't have to wear staid blue suits, which were just retreads of what men were wearing. They could wear something colorful, they could mix and match. They could have more choice and more fun" and inject personality into their office outfits. Bill McComb, CEO of Liz Claiborne, said in a statement: "In losing Liz Claiborne, we have not only lost the founder of our company, but an inspirational woman who revolutionized the fashion industry. Her commitment to style and design is ever present in our thinking and the way we work." The company went public in 1981. By 1985, Liz Claiborne Inc. was the first company founded by a woman to be listed in the Fortune 500, according to the company's website. Claiborne, along with her husband, Art Ortenberg, also a co-founder, retired from the day-to-day operations in 1989. Today, Liz Claiborne Inc.'s brands include Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Juicy Couture. Last year, sales reached almost $5 billion. With her owlish glasses and chic short hair, Claiborne wasn't known for conjuring an iconic piece, la Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dress, but for fostering a signature attitude. "She always designed clothes that allowed you to move through things with grace," Greene says. Claiborne catered to a multidimensional customer: "a mother, a career woman and a wife," Greene says. The clothes were "multigenerational and cut across all demographics. It was a very democratic line."