Born: Elizabeth Claiborne in Brussels, Belgium, 31 March 1929, to American parents from New Orleans; moved to New Orleans, 1939. Education: Studied art at Fine Arts School and Painters Studio, Belgium, 1947, and at the Nice Academy, 1948; self-taught in design. Family: Married Ben Schultz, 1950 (divorced); married Arthur Ortenberg, 1957; children: Alexander. Career: Sketch artist and model, Tina Leser, 1950; design assistant, Omar Kiam for Ben Reig, New York; designer, Youth Guild division of Jonathan Logan, 1960-76; founder/partner with Art Ortenberg, Liz Claiborne Inc., 1976; went public, 1981; introduced petite sportswear line, 1981; formed dress division, 1982; introduced shoes, 1983; purchased
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In 1976, after a 25-year career as a designer, Liz Claiborne founded her own company to provide innovative designs for professional women. By 1988 Liz Claiborne Inc. was competently filling the needs of the rapidly expanding women's workforce and its owner was among those profiled in Working Woman magazine's June 1988 series "Women Who Have Changed the World."
Claiborne preferred to view herself as one of her own down-to-earth clients, whom she called "the Liz Lady," one of the working women who had rapidly come to comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce. Her original concept was, as she explained in a Vogue interview in August 1986, "to dress the women who didn't have to wear suits—the teachers, the doctors, the women working in Southern California and Florida, the women in the fashion industry itself."
In 1980 Claiborne's innovative designs were so successful she became the first woman in the U.S. fashion industry to be named Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year, and in the following year her firm went public, prospering financially to such a degree it was described by Merrill Lynch as "a case history of success." The phenomenal growth of Liz Claiborne Inc. was spurred on by diversification from the two original basic lines—active sportswear and a slightly dressier collection—to include a dress division in 1982 and a unit for shoes in 1983. In 1985 the company acquired the Kaiser-Roth Corporation, which had been a licensee producing accessories, including handbags, scarves, belts, and hats.
Also in 1985, a collection of men's sportswear, Clairborne, was introduced, and 1986 saw the launch of a perfume Liz Claiborne, described by its eponymous designer to Vogue in August 1986 as appealing "to a woman's idealistic version of herself.… She's active, whatever her age. It's the same feeling we try to give in the clothes."
Since Claiborne's resignation from her company in 1989, the company has pursued various strategies to offer a wide range of fashion apparel, accessories, and fragrances for men and women. The basic strategy was to meet consumer needs and wants on all levels by pursing a multibrand, multichannel diversification. Under the leadership of Paul R. Charron, chairman and CEO, the company grew into a fashion empire including 22 owned and licensed brands available at 22,000 different retail locations throughout the world.
The company's brands can be found throughout the world at upscale, mainstream, promotional, and chain department stores and mass merchandisers. A customer can purchase a suit by the brand Dana Buchman at an upscale department store such as Saks Fifth Avenue or a sweater by Russ available only at Wal-Mart stores. In 2000, Target Stores successfully sold women's apparel under the Niki Taylor name. It will be renamed Meg Allen and available to Target exclusively in 2001. Classifications include upscale brands, middle line, urban, hip, and the budget brand, offering a wide range of prices in varied retail outlets.
Liz Claiborne Inc. was actively testing e-commerce through to of its brands, luckybrandjeans.com and elisabeth.com . The sites proved moderately successful as of 2001 and the company also had its corporate website at www.lizclaiborne.com . Another area of growth was accessories, with a presence in the costume jewelry segment, under the Liz Claiborne name. In addition, the company had acquired the trademarks of the Monet Group in 2000, which enhanced its accessories line and increased market share.
Liz Claiborne also continued to expand internationally. Its first retail outlet on London's Regent Street was opened in 2000 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the company's presence in Europe. Future growth leaned toward Europe and Canada but company executives were eyeing Latin America, especially Mexico, where sales had been strong.
Claiborne herself has been buying back shares of the company recently, and she and her husband run the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenburg Foundation. They spend their time in St. Barts or Montana, active in environmental and social issues. Claiborne does not wear the clothes bearing her name; she claims she would rather wear DKNY or Ralph Lauren casual clothes than her namesake brand, which itself had fallen on hard times in the past few years and moved only when markdowned. More recently, the trendy Kenneth Cole label produced by the company proved quite successful in taking business from the Liz Claiborne label. CEO Charron commented to the Wall Street Journal in February 2000, "It is better to steal market share from yourself than to sit back and let somebody else do it."
In the 21st century Liz Claiborne Inc. was the number-one retailer of clothes and accessories for career women in the United States. As such the company was firmly committed to furthering its brand recognition and making its many products available to consumers wherever they chose to shop.
updated by Donna W.Reamy