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Liz Claiborne Founder, Jerome A. Chazen: A tFS Exclusive Interview

Liz Claiborne founder and former chairman, Jerome A. Chazen, has just published a new book, My Life at Liz Claiborne: How We Broke the Rules and Built the Largest Fashion Company in the World. We spoke to the legenderary fashion executive about key personality traits for success, the struggles women face today, networking in the fashion industry, and more.

The Fashion Spot: What are some of the key personality traits needed for succeeding in the business side of the fashion industry?

Jerome A. Chazen: Passion, love of shopping, and a thick skin to overcome failures.

tFS: What's one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started your career?

JC: The movement towards constant discounting by retailers. 

tFS: Do you think that women still face more challenges than men in high level executive positions in the fashion industry?

JC: No, I think women are treated equally.

tFS: When you were at Liz Claiborne, what did a typical day's outfit look like?

JC: At first in the late 70s, buyers typically wore skirts, jackets, and blouses that definitely had a menswear feeling. As we moved into the 80s, especially the 90s, business attire became much freer and there was no single look that stood out.

tFS: The fashion industry is all about networking, any tips for young hopefulls just starting out?

JC: Two tips:

  1. Know your craft. Make sure you understand all of the aspects of the business and if possible, get a job that will expose you to these things.
  2. Try to get some retail experience where you can come into contact with the consumers and get a better idea of how they think.

tFS: What are your thoughts on the recent name change from Liz Claiborne to Fifth & Pacific?

JC: It really doesn’t mean anything to me. I think time will tell.

tFS: How do you think the women's apparel market, in general, has changed from when you started your career to now?

JC: The discounting problem is a big one as well as the consolidation of department stores is extremely important since it has changed a number of accounts dramatically, and the specialty store chains, which are actually manufacturer/retailers.

tFS: Can you highlight what you consider to be some of the keys to go from small startup to successful Fortune 500 company in a short time?

JC: Find the right niche in the market. Make sure you have sufficient financing and work like hell.