Her motto: “fit the way you live”

I am certain that you have heard her name more than once, maybe you and your mother have even worn clothing that bares her name, but what else do you know about her? Well she was a pioneer in the business world who paved the way for women like me to own our own companies.

Liz Claiborne, also known as Anne Elisabeth Jane Claiborne, was the first woman to become chairperson and CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. The road that led her there is one less traveled. Let’s take a closer look!
Liz was born in 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. Her family was prominent in Louisiana with an ancestor named William C. C. Claiborne who was the Governor of Louisiana during the War of 1812. When she was 10 her family returned to Louisiana. She attended a boarding school in Maryland, however instead of finishing high school her father, a banker, sent her to Europe. She was to study art informally since he did not believe Liz needed a formal education. Though her parents wanted her to become an artist, Liz knew she wanted to be a designer ever since her mother taught her how to sew.

When she was 21 she won the Jacques Heim National Design Contest sponsored by Harper’s Bizarre and jumped at the chance to move to New York the first moment she could. Unlike many other designers she did not attend Parson’s or a fancy design school, she merely worked as a sportswear sketch artist for Tina Leser and as a designer for Dan Keller, Youth Group Inc, and Johnathan Logan.
At the age of 47 she became frustrated with the lack of clothing for working women. Her boss at the time would not entertain her idea of mix and match coordinated sportswear for women, so she began her own company. She started with $50,000 of her and her husband’s savings money and $200,000 from other investors and more than quadrupled their investments.

Liz Claiborne Inc., established in 1976, was an instant success making $2 million the first year and $23 million 2 years later in 1978. By 1988 she had captured one third of the women’s upscale sportswear market. In 1981 her sales reached $117 million. Absolutely amazing for someone who did not even finish high school, isn’t it ?! Even more amazing was the in 1985 with retail sales of $1.2 Billion she was considered a fortune 500 company. Part of this incredible success can be accredited the the baby-boomers who were graduating from college and going out into the working world in the 80’s. Her company also received recognition as one of the best managed companies in the highly competitive area of women’s fashion.
Another reason for her success was that Liz Claiborne knew exactly what she wanted. She demanded that her clothes be placed together in department stores, something that was unheard of at the time. That decision has impacted the way that department stores are organized today. Thanks to Liz, we don’t have to go searching all over the place to put together a Liz Claiborne outfit.
Liz not only had influence in the business aspect of clothing but in the design aspect. She believed that women shouldn’t be confined to boring colors in the work place, she wanted to add fun and color to their wardrobe which would expand their work attire options. She designed clothes of quality and at an affordable price point so that working women could buy them, wear them, and feel great in them. She didn’t play into trends, her style was relevant across the different age groups and withheld its relevance during the changing seasons.

Liz and her second husband/co-founder, Art Ortenburg who was a textile manufacturer and consultant, retired in 1989 from management after acquiring other companies. During her retirement she donated millions of dollars to environmental organizations, she was definitely a forward thinker because we certainly need those funds today. Additionally, she founded the Liz Claiborne Foundation in 1981 to focus on ending domestic violence and promoting economic self-sufficiency for women and positive development for girls. She also lent her time to Parson’s School and The Fashion Institute of Technology as a lecturer.
In 1990 Claiborne and her husband were elected to the National Business Hall of Fame. She also received an induction into the National Sales Hall of Fame in 1991 and an honorary Doctorate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design the same year. At the 2000 American Fashion Awards presented by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Claiborne received the humanitarian award for her environmental work, more specifically for helping to fight the ivory trade in Africa.
Sadly, in 1997 she was told that she had a rare cancer that affected the lining of her abdomen. In 2007 she passed away after her struggle with cancer, at the age of 78.

Her legacy still lives on today through CFDA’s scholarship to Seniors earning a degree towards fashion design who have showed that they are addressing the lifestyle of working women in 2010. This merit based scholarship is worth $25,000 towards a student’s second semester in senior year or college expenses.

I have to say that I am impressed by the way that she handled the business aspect of her company. Her timing and the quality of her work combined made her a huge hit. She even sold over 15,000 units of a velour peasant blouse. Amazing right!? I would have never thought that her company had this much success. I just remember shopping with my mother before my freshman year in high school, buying 10 Liz Claiborne skirts that were all amazingly adorable and 10 dollars each. Not only that, but recently I went to LizClaiborne.com and typed in my size ( which is a double digit) and got 61 pages worth of clothing, 61! That is astonishing. What is more surprising is that all of my options were cute, affordable, and multifunctional ( wearable for work or for play)

Though some may have said her line never had edge, they can no longer say that today because of the fabulous new addition to their team, Isaac Mizrahi. To add a little extra flavor, her company also acquired Luck Brand Jeans , Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, Kenzie, Kenzie Girl, Monet and Marvella. It also holds the license to DKNY jeans and DKNY active. If that’s not edge, I don’t know what is.

Please, let’s all take a lesson from the late, great Liz Claiborne who impacted not only the fashion world, but the business world, the environment and much much more. This woman was truly amazing. I will continue to wear her brand with honor and pride.

Here’s to you Liz, you ROCK!

Enjoy some pictures of the Fall 2009 Line styled and designed by Isaac Mizrahi. He has kept her same theme and modernized it!

I have to admit, I had never heard of Isaac before his run with Target, but I do not feel as bad because most of his success became before I was even born or able to talk properly. In Isaac’s lifetime, success can not simply be measured by mastering one craft but by doing everything you ever dreamed of doing. Isaac is one of the few people who I know that has been thoroughly involved in every aspect of pop culture from movies, to books, to fashion, and television. He has done it all! Let’s take a stroll down the path of his tireless journey.

Isaac was born October 14, 1961 in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Ocean Parkway New Jersey. He must have been born with a fashion gene because at the age of 4 his mother began to notice his attraction to the details of her shoes. His mother often took him shopping with her at Saks and Bergdorf’s and ,honestly, who can resist falling in love when introduced to these fashion paradises at such a young age. His father was a merchandiser of children’s clothing, so design was nothing new to this semi-traditional Jewish family.

By the time Isaac was 10 years old he had moved back to Brooklyn and had been given his first sewing machine from his father. He made clothing for puppets to wear during birthday party appearances. By 13, he was making clothing for his mom, dad, and his mother’s friend Sarah Haddad.

While in Brooklyn his parents wanted him to attend a Jewish school, however his rebellious personality got him kicked out on numerous occasions. His mother had to come to the school and bail him out of trouble constantly. Finally, Isaac had enough. He enrolled in New York High School for the Performing Arts to persue his passions in drama, music, and dance. Isaac lost 75 pounds his first semester and gained it all back in confidence.

While in high school Isaac took some evening classes at Parson’s. Upon his high school graduation he studied full time at Parson’s developing his skills that would one day land him the title of one of the Best American Fashion Designers of his time.

After his third year at Parson’s, he got a part time internship working with Perry Ellis. Mr. Ellis became his mentor and after graduating from undergraduate, he went to work for him full time. Isaac worked very hard for Ellis and in return her received experience and training that would be priceless in this industry.

After he left Perry Ellis, he worked for Jeffrey Banks and Calvin Klein. Not long after , in 1987, Isaac started his own line with financial support from family friend Sarah Haddad. He began small designing in a small loft and selling from the back of a car. In the spring of 1988 he had his spring show. There were few guests , only there to see if anything interesting would come from this new designer. All the guests were floored with surprise at the fresh feeling he brought to fashion, Isaac became an over night success story. From that moment forward, his life began moving full speed ahead.

He began to win awards and designing costumes for ballets and theater in the early 1990’s. In 1994 he was going to introduce his fall line and his preparations for his line would be filmed for his hit documentary called Unzipped. The documentary was directed by Isaac’s ex lover Douglass Keeve and it was released in 1995. It contained footage from his childhood and footage of his life as a designer working with models and at shows. This documentary took him from beloved fashion designer to beloved celebrity fashion designer.

In 1997 he wrote a comic book series called Isaac Mizrahi Presents the Adventures of Sandee the Supermodel. The series featured the supermodel facing all the stereotypical problems that a supermodel would face in the industry. Critics and fans alike loved his rendition on the life of a model. This was a cherry on top of his sweet career.

Little did he know that in 1998, Chanel, his financial backer, would pull out and cause him to have to shut down his business. He had other options that would possible keep the company rolling, but he decided to move on. Which today has proved to be a good idea.

In 1999 he started in a one-man off Broadway cabaret act that critics called charming and engaging. From there he was given his own talk show on Oxygen where he had a plethora of celebrity guests and a wide array of activities.

Reverting back to designing, he signed a five year deal with Target to design a line of affordable fashions ranging from $10-$70. I have to say that he made some really cute things for target that were sold out in a heart beat. In 2007 he made wedding gowns for Target as well. He made target more than $300 million per year. He also had his own line which he referred to as Isaac Mizrahi to Order where he designs gowns starting at $4,000 a pop.

In 2008 he split with Target and went over to Liz Claiborne to resuscitate her dying line. He has made a fall 2009 line which has won rave reviews. He is now the host of a show called The Fashion Shows on Bravo, which is a different spin to the once hit Project Runway. Isaac has made many appearances on all the fashion forward shows and movies including Ugly Betty and Sex in the City. Today he is in the works of directing his first movies, The Extra Man.

Though we all know Isaac as an outspoken and almost flamboyant person, you can’t help but love him . However, in the 2006 Golden Globes I couldn’t help but shutter with horror at some of the things he was doing, such as squeezing Scarlett Johansson’s breasts, looking down Terri Hatchers dress, and asking people if they had undies on. I am willing to look past that if you are 😦

Recently, Isaac Mizrahi has been named to a newly created role of Senior Vice President, Managing Director at Alma DDB effective July 13, 2009.

Isaac’s Award Center
2002 won the Drama Desk Award for his costume designs for The Women.
1996 won the Eddie for Best Edited Documentary.
1995 won the audience award for best documentary.
1991 won CFDA Womenswear designer of the year award

If you wanna keep up with Issac, watch him at by clicking HERE.

I chose Isaac for my blog because he embodies what it means to follow your dreams and that anyone could do anything as long as they want it bad enough. He had a few hurdles, some avoidable and others not so much, but he came through them better than ever. It is not always about how someone does while they are already successful and loved, but how someone does when they are going through hard times. He has shown his dedication to the arts and his passion to do any and everything he set his mind to. We should all be so lucky to accomplish the things this man has. Here’s to you Isaac, ” Fat is the new black.”