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Claiborne Sent Women to Work in Style

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Fashion designer Liz Claiborne has died at the age of 78. Her line of clothes became popular in the late '70s. It was a time when women began working outside the home in large numbers, and Liz Claiborne designed clothes for professional women at prices they could afford. For years, hers was the largest women's apparel company in the U.S.

Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli with more.

JIM ZARROLI: Claiborne had been working in the fashion industry for two decades when she decided to break away and form her own company together with her husband and a business partner. The company did so well that they decided to go public in 1981. By the mid-80s, it was the first company started by a woman to enter the Fortune 500.

Claiborne's success was at least in part about timing. Before she came along, the uniform of the workingwoman tended to be a dark suit with a blouse and a big bow. Claiborne designed separates that were fashionable without being overly trendy. Her look was feminine, but still professional in a way that women found appealing.

Ms. LORI HOLIDAY BANKS (Consultant, Tobe Report): I think she was a designer for real women, real people.

ZARROLI: Lori Holiday Banks is a consultant at the Toby Report. She says Claiborne's designs were especially versatile.

Ms. BANKS: It was casual clothing for their weekends. They were suits that could take them to the office. It wasn't cheap. It was quality fabrics and attractive designs, and it worked well together. And I think that women reacted to that.

ZARROLI: In 1989, Claiborne resigned from the company. In the years since then, the company has acquired a number of smaller clothing lines, and today its many brands include Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman and Lucky Brands. But as tastes have changed, the company has struggled to compete. Just last week, it announced a major restructuring.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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