Diane von Furstenberg, Liz Claiborne: designer greats, different fates
Crains New York, November 27, 2011

Ms. von Furstenberg and Ms. Claiborne, who passed away in 2007, won the hearts of American working women when they founded their apparel companies in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Riding the wave of the nascent women’s movement, both Brussels-born designers recognized the market’s need for clothing that was versatile, professional, chic and wearable at a time when women were making the most of their newly claimed equal rights and entering the workforce in droves. And both women rose to prominence, the styles of each epitomizing an entire class of women.

“In the case of both brands, women really identified, in different ways, with their namesakes,” said Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. “Diane was the princess, the social butterfly, the icon. Liz was someone you could sit down with and have coffee.”

That connection with shoppers was what made DVF and broke Liz, retail experts said. Liz’s founder retired, leaving the label in a free fall, while DVF’s returned to reinvigorate the brand into a continual upswing. Fashion companies need figureheads, or at least designers with style. Other labels have also lost their chiefs, but new designers came in to bolster the business—as has occurred with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, and, more recently, with Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. Whereas Ms. von Furstenberg is still very much involved in her company, the absence of Ms. Claiborne has taken its toll.