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Sportswear Designer Liz Claiborne Dies at 78

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Apparel designer Liz Claiborne, who founded a namesake women's sportswear label that grew into a multibillion dollar global empire, has died at age 78, the company said on Wednesday.

Claiborne was ailing from cancer and died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Tuesday, her assistant told Reuters.

Born March 31, 1929 in Brussels, Claiborne was raised in New Orleans. After winning a design contest in Harper's Bazaar magazine as a young woman, she launched her career upon moving to New York.

She worked at various Seventh Avenue sportswear and dressmaking firms before founding her own company in 1976, with her husband, Art Ortenberg, a textile industry veteran, and two others.

Designer Calvin Klein described Claiborne as a "thin and stylish" woman of vision whom he first met in the early 1970s, after he himself had launched his own apparel company.

"She was really the first American designer to concentrate on clothes that a large segment of working women could afford," Klein told Reuters. "She had great taste and great style and she built one of the largest, most successful apparel companies."

Indeed, Claiborne's keen understanding of the working woman -- still an emerging concept in the mid-1970s -- led her to design styles that combined fashion with functionality, introducing droves of women to today's modern work uniform of sportswear separates.
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