Arthur Ortenberg, a Liz Claiborne Founder, Dies at 87

Arthur Ortenberg, a Liz Claiborne Founder, Dies at 87



The designer Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg were co-founders of the fashion powerhouse named after her. Bill Cunningham/The New York Times

Arthur Ortenberg, who teamed up with his wife, the designer Liz Claiborne, and a third partner to build a billion-dollar enterprise clothing career women in stylish but casual outfits at moderate prices, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 87.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son, Neil, said.

Known as “Liz and Art” in the industry they helped revolutionize, the couple responded to women streaming into the work force in the 1970s by creating a line of colorful, imaginatively styled tops and bottoms that could be mixed and matched. Liz Claiborne Inc. came to occupy a lucrative niche between pantsuits and high fashion, and it quickly attracted imitators.

“I tried to bring good taste to a mass level,” Ms. Claiborne said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily in 1989. She called her designs “businesslike, but not too pinstripe, more casual, more imaginative, less uptight.”

Ms. Claiborne, who had the title of chairman, was the chief designer and public face of the company, while Mr. Ortenberg was effectively the chief executive (though the title he took was company secretary).

In an industry that juggles suppliers, designers, wholesalers and retailers, Mr. Ortenberg was the principal juggler, setting up complicated systems for making sure fabrics arrived at factories and went out as finished garments at the right time and in the correct quantity.

“It’s a wonderful intellectual activity,” he told The New York Times in 1986. “The equivalent of three-dimensional chess.”

The couple and a partner, Leonard Boxer, started Liz Claiborne Inc. in 1976 with $50,000 in savings and $200,000 raised from family members, friends and business associates. (Claiborne was her maiden name; she used Ortenberg privately.)

Within seven months they were in the black, an unheard-of feat on Seventh Avenue. Mr. Boxer oversaw production.

The company grossed $2.6 million in its first year, and when it went public in 1981 it reported net income of $10 million on sales of $117 million. Five years later, Liz Claiborne became the first company founded and headed by a woman to be ranked among the Fortune 500.

The company became a leader in the apparel industry in moving manufacturing operations to Asia, where labor was cheaper. Ms. Claiborne told The New Yorker magazine in 1988 that she was delighted when her husband showed her that she could get features like “the tiny stitches, the beautiful buttonholes” she wanted in Hong Kong much more readily than in the United States.

“She was appalled she hadn’t looked into it earlier,” Mr. Ortenberg said.

When the couple retired in 1990, Liz Claiborne was the largest women’s apparel maker in the country, with $1.4 billion in sales.

Arthur Ortenberg was born on Aug. 13, 1926, in Newark, where he grew up. His father, who had emigrated from Russia, became a self-taught upholsterer and opened his own shop. His mother, an immigrant from Poland, was a seamstress. Arthur read voraciously at the public library across the street from his home and graduated from the University of Wisconsin.

Mr. Ortenberg became a garment industry executive through connections he made in college. The company where he worked in the mid-1950s, Rhea Manufacturing, was eager to increase its sportswear sales, and Mr. Ortenberg wanted to prove that he had not been hired only because he knew the right people.

He saw a sportswear line he liked and thought that its designer might be able to do the same for Rhea. Learning that the designer was named Liz Schultz, he sought her out with the idea of hiring her, and did, he wrote in a memoir, “Liz Claiborne: The Legend, the Woman” (2009).

“The moment we met, I knew something important was happening,” he wrote. “We had an affair, or rather, we fell in love.”

The clothing line that she devised and he marketed for Rhea failed, but their romance blossomed. She soon divorced her husband, Ben Schultz, and he divorced his wife, Muriel Kotchever, and they married on July 5, 1957. Ms. Claiborne died on June 26, 2007, just short of their 50th anniversary.

After the couple retired, in 1989, they toured the globe in their newly purchased Gulfstream III jet. They started a foundation to support environmental causes, particularly preserving animals and their habitats.

Mr. Ortenberg had homes in Manhattan, Fire Island and Montana. In addition to his son, he is survived by his daughter, Nancy Ortenberg; his stepson, Alexander Schultz; his sister, Gloria Farber; three grandchildren; and his partner, Cathy Horyn, who until recently was a fashion critic for The Times.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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