Fashion guru Liz Claiborne dies

Fashion designer Liz Claiborne, whose styles became a cornerstone of career women’s wardrobes in the 1970s and 1980s, has died.

Claiborne, 78, died yesterday at the New York Presbyterian Hospital after battling cancer for a number of years, Gwen Satterfield, her personal assistant, said tonight.

Claiborne founded Liz Claiborne Inc in 1976 along with her husband Art Ortenberg and Leonard Boxer. Their goal was to create a collection of outfits aimed at the growing number of women entering the workforce.

The new approach to dressing revolutionised the department store industry, which had focused only on stocking trousers in one department and skirts in another. Liz Claiborne executives were instrumental in working with department stores to present all the related pieces of a wardrobe in one department.

The clothes became an instant hit and the company went public in 1981. By 1985, Liz Claiborne was the first company founded by a woman to be listed in the Fortune 500, according to the company’s website. The company, whose brands now include Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Juicy Couture, generated sales of almost £2.5 billion last year.

“In losing Liz Claiborne, we have not only lost the founder of our company, but an inspirational woman who revolutionised the fashion industry 30 years ago,” said Bill McComb, chief executive of Liz Claiborne, in a statement.

“Her commitment to style and design is ever present in our thinking and the way we work. We will remember Liz for her vision, her entrepreneurial spirit and her enduring compassion and generosity.”

Claiborne owned a ranch near Helena, Montana, and, along with Ortenberg, supported numerous charitable, civic and educational groups. Her favoured cause was a crusade against domestic violence.

She had a minor brush with the law in Helena in 2004, when she was fined £70 and given a 30-day deferred jail sentence for leaving the scene of an accident in her yellow Porsche.

Witnesses reported seeing her sports car leave after turning too sharply and scrape the bumper of an unoccupied vehicle in a grocery store car park. She later apologised.

Claiborne and her husband retired in 1989. Boxer retired from the company in 1985.

There have been a number of changes since then. Jerry Chazen, the fourth original partner, became the company’s chairman in 1989. Paul Charron succeeded Chazen in the mid-1990s and spearheaded an aggressive campaign to acquire different labels to diversify beyond the company’s namesake brands, which had struggled with increased competition.

Last November, McComb joined the company as CEO, succeeding Charron.

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