By  on March 27, 2006

NEW YORK — Never at a loss for words, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg always spoke their minds, on topics ranging from design, global sourcing and domestic production to their successors. Here, some of the thoughts they expressed to WWD while building the company they began in February 1976, and after they retired in June 1989.

“I envision my clothes for working women, although that’s not always the case. Actually, they’re for active, young-minded women who want to put themselves together for under $150. I try to eliminate gimmicks so that the clothes are affordable.”
Liz Claiborne, 1976

“When Art formed his consulting company, it was with the idea that I might join him. It was a combination of personal and professional reasons. We often discussed work and used each other’s knowledge.”
Liz Claiborne, 1977

“There is an immediacy about our company that we don’t want to lose. We want to keep it as simple as possible — that’s why we have avoided computerization.”
Art Ortenberg, 1977

“I think it works beautifully.”
Liz Claiborne, 1977, of being a business partner with her husband

“It works particularly well with second marriages.”
Art Ortenberg, 1977

“Dynamic growth has to be financed properly. We are capitalized properly through the efforts of private investors and the firm’s partners, who own a good percentage of the company. We have to stay within certain cost parameters for efficient and professional growth.”
Art Ortenberg, 1977

“I hold final veto power. It can be a little difficult on the designers to work for this company, because they have to throw out some of their good ideas that just aren’t mine.”
Liz Claiborne, 1984

“Designers used to be notorious for coming in late, leaving early and taking long lunch hours. Not any more. Designers today work like hell.”
Liz Claiborne, 1984“Our main concern is training capable people to replace us. We will measure our success according to how much less we can work in the future and how much we can delegate to new, capable managers.”
Art Ortenberg, 1984

“We are all resigned — both manufacturers and retailers — to the reality that there isn’t any help for the consumer. If you go on the designer floor, you can get help, but if you go on our floor, the better or mass floor, there’s no service. Help costs money. That was the first economy stores made. The stores have become self-service. Women need guidance, but they will take it in different ways.”
Liz Claiborne, 1984, suggesting visual displays, videos and mannequins

“I sit in on all the initial, medium and final line planning meetings. I look at every sportswear garment that goes out of here. I keep more of a distance from dresses, girls’ and men’s.”
Liz Claiborne, 1986

“We often have to chase people domestically to get them to do business with us, and when we can get the fabrics we need, the problem is we can’t get the sewing…the number of units we require, the quality and the cost. ?? Nobody makes denim any better than U.S. mills, but we have to send it to Hong Kong to have it made into jeans as we want them, and this takes valuable time.”
Art Ortenberg, 1987

“On some of our goods, it costs $15 a garment to stitch them in Hong Kong, compared with $30 to $40 a unit to stitch them in the U.S.…They make better garments overseas.”
Art Ortenberg, 1987

“As you get older, you get less excited about what’s going on. It used to be I couldn’t wait to read the fashion newspapers and see what the Europeans were doing. As I’ve gotten interested in other things, I can’t quite get as excited about it.”
Liz Claiborne, 1989, on retiring“I look upon these 13 years as a gift. It permitted Liz and I to use ourselves fully both with people within the company, and suppliers and customers. It’s like leaving your family.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989, on retiring

“We were very fortunate. We caught the beginning of great cultural and demographic changes in the U.S.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989, referring to the influx of women into the workforce

“Our strategy at the very beginning was to become a backbone resource for department stores. Clothes must be flattering, of superior value, and deliveries must be on time. This is the only design- and engineering-driven company at these price points.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“I wanted to dress busy and active women like myself — women who dress in a rush and who weren’t perfect. But loving clothes, I knew clothes could do a certain thing for you from a flattering point of view. And I tried to bring good taste to a mass level.”
Liz Claiborne, 1989

“I think the relationship that existed in the past, the so-called vendor and store relationship, has changed, and to a large degree we’ve helped to create a sense of equality in that relationship. The industry has changed, too, because department stores have more pressure to move goods. It’s very difficult for a department store to live on smaller vendors who are not well capitalized.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“One, we put a great deal of energy into trying to build a collegial and familiar company of equals. Nobody has ever lost their job for insubordination or a disagreement with management.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“One of the problems with Liz and me is we’ve become mythic and corporeal simultaneously. It’s very confusing for people you’re working with. The mythic qualities aren’t stimulating. They begin to posture, and then you have theater.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“The real trick is to build a proper company that can perpetuate itself. We started to view ourselves as a council of elders and saw our role as supportive, teachers, disciplinarians. We wanted to let the young cross the street by themselves, rather than impose accumulated wisdom on them.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989“We never discussed the making of money as the reason for going into business.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“Liz and I have long had numerous environmental projects in mind and not enough time to address them. Now we have the time and the wherewithal through the Liz Claiborne Foundation to do just that. We want to make this world a better place for our grandchildren to live in. I don’t want to live in a world with no eagles, elephants or rhinoceroses.”
Art Ortenberg, 1989

“Losing Jay [Margolis, vice chairman of Liz Claiborne, who departed the firm], the company has lost a tremendous merchant, a great leader and one of the company’s very best assets. I was caught by surprise. I knew things were not always going that well with everybody working together.”
Liz Claiborne, 1993

“When I’m in Montana, and someone comes up to me and says, ‘Aren’t you Liz Claiborne?,’ it takes me a second to realize what they are asking.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

“I gather the industry is very different today. It’s not as much fun. It’s harder, and everything is concentrated. I know I complained about it then, but I’ll complain about it today. The stores are overstocked. It’s hard to find individual- looking things. There’s quite a sameness going on, but I guess that always existed. I’m sure 10 or 15 years ago I’d be saying the same thing. I gather from some of my old friends that it’s not as much fun as it used to be. There was at least some discussion of style then and what really is important from a fashion point of view for the department store. Today, I gather, it is all the bottom line.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

“There is a glass ceiling. All the top echelon of people who really make the decisions are male, but the second string is a very open position for women. I still feel the minute it comes to real heavy business decisions encompassing a whole company or a whole department store, there are very few women who are in control, except for Linda Wachner…who’s having her own problems, none of which have to do with being female.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000“Having been a designer all my adult life, I didn’t feel you had to dress in this business suit as a woman, and try to be competitive with men in your dress. I felt you could dress in a much — not softer, but less tailored way, and more colorfully. We never really were an Evan-Picone or a Jones in their navy blue suits. I never was considered good at that, but I felt women did want to look put-together and should look put together at the office. So what we tried to do was to digest looks and put them out so that they were highly understandable and [customers] would put them together the way they wanted to. They were never sold as units; they were always sold as separates, but color-coordinated, which was one of the keys, and the way it was displayed was terribly important — which is why today I say it is more difficult, because everything looks like a bargain basement, no matter what the price.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

“I still love fashion, mind you, and I love clothes. I’ll never get over that, and thank God for the fashion industry, but no, it’s not for me anymore.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

“It used to be very exciting to work in the fashion industry from every point of view, and the business point of view as well, because if you didn’t sell, there was no point in being in business. I think my biggest kick as a designer was seeing my clothes walk down the street and being able to recognize my clothes on so many people.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

“It had gotten to the point where they had scheduled me very tightly — I had to do a breakfast show, a luncheon show and fly to another city to do an evening show. Once the plane was late getting to the other city, something like an hour and a half, and I thought, ‘Well they’ve gone ahead with the show,’ and when I landed. they greeted me and said, ‘If you can rush there, everybody is still waiting.’ I changed in the hotel room in about two seconds flat and went out, and when I walked in that room, the applause. I still get emotional about it, because it was the first time I realized it was like being a star for a short while.”
Liz Claiborne, 2000

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