The designer Liz Claiborne died Tuesday in Manhattan at the age of 78 from complications of cancer. Here’s an excerpt from The New York Times obituary, which was just posted on the Times website:

A strong-willed designer with an acute sense for business, she defied the male-dominated ranks of the fashion industry by starting her own company in 1976 with Mr. Ortenberg, a textiles executive. In an apt reversal of roles, she gave him the corporate title of secretary.

Ms. Claiborne correctly anticipated a market for affordable, professional-looking clothes that women could wear to compete on an equal footing with men in corporate professions. In her no-nonsense way, she became something of a role model, and her label an inspirational emblem, to those who, like her, were looking to break through glass ceilings.

As a measure of her success, when Ms. Claiborne retired from active management of Liz Claiborne Inc. in 1990, it was the largest women’s apparel maker in the country, with $1.4 billion in sales.

The company remains among the largest in fashion with $4.85 billion in sales in 2005 and a portfolio of brands that now includes Dana Buchman, Juicy Couture, Ellen Tracy and Lucky Brand jeans.

Ms. Claiborne’s company was the first founded by a woman to enter the rankings of the Fortune 500, in 1986, and she was one of only a handful of women who were chief executives of companies on that list.

As a designer, Ms. Claiborne did not care to be considered a trendsetter. She placed practical concerns over the glamour of the catwalks and the prestige of designer prices. Her arrival as a fashion brand was precipitous, catching the beginning of a great change in American society as women headed to the workplace in large numbers.

Continue reading here to learn more about Claiborne’s influence on and criticism of the fashion industry and her interest in environmental conservancy.

Christine

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