Jerome Chazen, an original partner in the Liz Claiborne company, which helped reshape the way career women dress, died Sunday. He was 94.
The death was confirmed by his son, David, who did not specify where Mr. Chazen died.
Mr. Chazen was a driving force behind Liz Claiborne Inc. because it empowered a generation of women in business who looked beyond Brooks Brothers blouses with bows. His fruitful relationships with department stores paid off as malls began to take over US retail chains. Women’s Wear Daily called him “one of the architects of the clothing giant’s phenomenal growth in the 1980s.”
Founded in 1976, Liz Claiborne grew into the nation’s largest clothing company, offering working women an affordable alternative to high-end designers such as Calvin Klein and Bill Blass. It established itself with retailers producing and supplying complete collections of coordinated individual items intended to be worn together. And it helped to make trousers a staple of the workwear wardrobe.
“I can’t tell you we were smart enough back then to say, ‘American women are about to enter the workforce in record numbers, and they’re going to need something to wear,'” Mr. Chazen to DailyExpertNews 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, Mrs. Claiborne, to make the Fortune 500. In the early 1990s, it had annual sales of over $2 billion.
Jerome Chazen, known to everyone as Jerry, was born on March 21, 1927, to Rose and David Chazen. His mother was a seamstress; his father worked in commercial heating.
Jerry Chazen served in the United States 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: there he met Simona Chivian, who later became his 72-year-old wife. year; and his roommate, Arthur Ortenberg, would later marry Mrs. Claiborne and become his longtime business partner in the Claiborne company.
After his studies, Mr. Chazen has a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University, where his only A degree was in marketing, recalled in his autobiography, “My Life at Liz Claiborne: How We Brake the Rules and Built the Largest Fashion Company in the World.” After earning his MBA in 1950, he took a job as a junior analyst with the Wall Street firm Sutro Brothers before leaving for a job with the clothing manufacturer Rhea Midwest.
Various retail jobs and over a decade later he joined Mr Ortenberg and Mrs Claiborne in their new retail company, Liz Claiborne; he 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 directly until he solidified his finances at his existing job.)
“We came into the business in 1976, when the main way of dressing was basically a dress – that’s what women wore,” said Mr. Chazen in an interview with Columbia University. “I felt that women were ready for a change. And they actually were.”
With Mr. Ortenberg, Mrs. Claiborne invested $50,000 of her own money and raised $200,000 more from friends. mr. Chazen initially contributed $15,000 and eventually another $10,000. Leonard Boxer, a fellow partner, kicked in $25,000.
In the quartet of original partners, each played a role: Mrs Claiborne, the designer with a finger on what women wanted; mr. Ortenberg, in operations and finance; mr. Boxer, in production; and Mr. Chazen, in marketing and sales, who maintains strong relationships with department stores – the industry’s powerful players in those days.
“He made it a point to know everyone,” said Allen Questrom, the former chief financial officer of the giant parent company Federated Department Stores. “The salesperson is the most important thing – you have to be able to sell – and he played an important role in that.”
Those affiliates, he added, benefited from Mr. Chazen’s keen understanding of what each store was asking for, offering it a range of products he thought would sell the 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 range than Marshall Field’s in Urbana, Illinois — and Jerry understood that and taught his team to plan each store individually, to maximize the product coming in.”
Mr. Chazen attributed much of the company’s financial success to his decision to relocate its manufacturing facilities to Asia.
“It was clear that we couldn’t find enough factory space in this country to make all the garments we needed at the price and quality level at which we had established our business,” he said in the interview with Columbia. “I suggested that the company consider making goods abroad. And I thought Liz was going to have a heart attack.”
Mr Chazen retired from Liz Claiborne in 1996. He was the last remaining original partner. Mrs. Claiborne died in 2007 at the age of 78, Mr. Boxer in 2009 at age 86 and Mr. Ortenberg in 2014 at the age of 87.
Relations between them were tense at times, Mr Chazen said in his book.
“Art always struggled to give me credit for the key role I played in the company,” he wrote. “I had to live with that reality then and for many years to come, no matter how my ideas and my management led the company to success. I think I had so much fun that it really didn’t matter. But to be honest, sometimes it got to me.”
Mr. Chazen was an energetic philanthropist, making large donations to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University, among others, where a $10 million pledge in 2016 helped he in funding what is now the Chazen Institute of International Business.
In addition to his son, David, he leaves behind his wife, daughters Kathy Chazen and Louise Chazen Banon, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.