Elizabeth (Liz) Claiborne was from a New Orleans family, but since her father worked as a banker in Belgium, she was born in 1929 in Brussels. She studied at the Fine Arts School and Painter's Studio, in Belgium. She also studied at the Nice Academy in France. Her father's work meant that they were always on the move, but by the time she was a teenager, her family had finally settled in the United States.
She always wanted to be a fashion designer, but her father was not keen on the idea and sent her to Paris to study art.
In 1949, she won a HARPERS BAZAAR Jacques Heim design contest, which entitled her to travel and sketch in Europe. On her return to New York, she joined Tina Leser where she worked for two years. Later she worked at Omar Kiam where she was design assistant to Ben Reig.
Liz married Ben Schultz in 1950 but that marriage ended in divorce. She had a son named Alexander. She married Arthur Ortenberg in 1957.
In 1954 Liz started up as a New York free-lance designer. In 1960 she began to design for the Youth Guild Inc, a division of Jonathan Logan. She worked here for 16 years.
During the 1960;s she was one of the many designers who helped promote the idea of removing the strict classifications of clothes for specific occasions, by designing a complete wardrobe of mix-and-match separates.
In 1976, Claiborne started up her own company, along with her second husband Arthur Ortenberg, and their friends Leonard Boxer and Jerome Chaze. This went public in 1981. For nearly 30 years the Liz Claiborne company has produced predominantly youthful, fashion-conscious clothes. The company's forte has been casual, separates-based working wardrobes, sold in a medium-price range.
In 1980 her innovative designs were so successful that she became the first woman in the US fashion industry to be named "Entrepreneur of the Year". Merrill Lynch described her company as a "case history of success".
Liz was awarded the CFDA designer of the year award in 1985.
In 1989, when she reached 60, Liz and her husband Arthur personally retired from active work in the company although she still keeps an eye on the house that bears her name.
In retirement, Claiborne and Ortenberg founded a foundation that distributed millions in funding to environmental causes including funding the television series Nature on PBS television and nature conservancy projects around the world.
She had been advised in 1997 that she had a rare form of cancer affecting the lining of the abdomen. Liz Claiborne died on June 26, 2007 at the age of 78, following a long battle with the cancer.
Liz Claiborne Inc., is a billion dollar concern going into the 21st century. It now employs around 8,000 people. The Net sales in 2000 were over $ 3 billion. The Liz Claiborne Corporation controls an estimated one-third of the $ 10 billion US market for womens sportswear, and sells through 3500 retailers in the US. It has acquired several other designer houses, mostly those started by women, such as Sigrid Olsen and Dana Buchman.