Jerome Chazen, an original partner of the Liz Claiborne Company who helped reshape the way career women dress, died on Sunday. He was 94 years old.
The death was confirmed by his son, David, who did not say where Mr Chazen died.
Mr. Chazen was a driving force behind Liz Claiborne Inc. as he equipped a generation of women in corporate life looking beyond Brooks Brothers blouses with bows. Its successful relationships with department stores paid off just as malls began to take over American retail. Women’s Wear Daily called it “one of architects of the clothing giant’s phenomenal growth in the 1980s.”
Liz Claiborne, founded in 1976, has become the nation’s largest clothing company, providing working women with an affordable alternative to high-end designers like Calvin Klein and Bill Blass. It established itself with retailers by producing and delivering entire collections of coordinated pieces meant to be worn in tandem. And that’s helped make pants a staple in the workwear wardrobe.
“I can’t tell you we were smart enough back then to say, ‘American women are about to join the workforce in record numbers, and they’re going to need something to wear,'” Mr. Chazen told the New York. Times in 2007, but “we saw a niche”.
The company went public in 1981. Five years later, it became the first company led by a woman, Ms. Claiborne, to make it into the Fortune 500. By the early 1990s, it had over $2 billion in sales annuals.
Jérôme Chazen, known to everyone as Jerry, was born on March 21, 1927 to Rose and David Chazen. Her mother was a seamstress; his father worked in commercial heating.
Jerry Chazen served in the US Navy from 1945 to 1946 and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he had at least two fateful encounters before leaving with a bachelor’s degree in economics: it was there that he met Simona Chivian, who will become his wife of 72 years; and her college roommate, Arthur Ortenberg, would go on to marry Mrs. Claiborne and become her longtime business partner in the Claiborne company.
After college, Mr. Chazen earned a master’s degree in commerce at Columbia University, where his only A grade was in marketing, he recalled in his autobiography, “My Life at Liz Claiborne: How We Broke rules and builds the greatest fashion company in the world.” After earning his MBA in 1950, he took a job as a junior analyst at the Wall Street firm Sutro Brothers before leaving for a job at the clothing manufacturer Rhea Midwest.
Several retail jobs and more than a decade later joined Mr. Ortenberg and Mrs. Claiborne in their new retail venture, Liz Claiborne; it officially came on board in 1977, a year after its founding. (Mr. Chazen said in his autobiography that he was initially unable to join the company until he consolidated his finances at his current job.)
“We got into the business in 1976 when the main mode of dress was actually a dress – that’s what women wore,” Mr. Chazen said in a interview with Columbia University. “I felt women were ready for a change. And in fact, they were.
Along with Mr. Ortenberg, Ms. Claiborne invested $50,000 of her own money and raised another $200,000 from friends. Mr. Chazen initially contributed $15,000 and eventually another $10,000. Leonard Boxer, another partner, threw in $25,000.
In the original quartet of partners, everyone had a role to play: Ms. Claiborne, the designer listening to women’s desires; Mr. Ortenberg, operations and finance; Mr. Boxer, in production; and Mr. Chazen, in marketing and sales, fostering strong relationships with department stores, the major players in the industry at the time.
“He wanted to know everyone,” said Allen Questrom, the former chief financial officer of giant parent company Federated Department Stores. “The salesperson is the most important thing – you have to be able to sell – and he’s been a real key part of that.”
Those relationships, he added, benefited from Mr. Chazen’s deep understanding of what each store required, providing him with a range of products he believed would sell best.
Carol Hochman, who first met Mr. Chazen in the early 1980s when he hired her as Vice President of Sales for Liz Claiborne Accessories, said: “A Marshall Field’s in Chicago needed a different assortment than Marshall Field’s in Urbana, Illinois – and Jerry understood that and taught his team to plan each store individually, to maximize the product that comes in.
Mr. Chazen attributed much of the company’s financial success to its decision to move its production facilities to Asia.
“It was obvious that we couldn’t find enough factory space in this country to manufacture all the garments we needed at the price and quality level we had established for our business,” he said. stated in the Columbia interview. “I suggested the company consider having products manufactured overseas. And I thought Liz would have a heart attack.
Mr. Chazen retired from Liz Claiborne in 1996. He had been the last surviving original partner. Ms Claiborne died in 2007 aged 78, Mr Boxer at 2009 at 86, and Mr. Ortenberg in 2014 at 87.
Relations between them were strained at times, Mr. Chazen said in his book.
“Art has always struggled to recognize me for the key role I played in the business,” he writes. “I had to live with that reality then and for many years after, no matter how my ideas and direction guided the company to success. I guess I was having so much fun, it didn’t really matter. But, to be honest, sometimes it got to me.
Mr. Chazen was an energetic philanthropist, making significant donations to, among other organizations, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University, where, with a pledge of $10 million in 2016, he helped fund what is now the Chazen Institute of International Business.
Besides his son David, he is survived by his wife, his daughters Kathy Chazen and Louise Chazen Banon, seven grandchildren and a great-grandson.