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Culture, Fashion, Art: Jerry Chazen Left His Mark on the UW

A well-known philanthropist, Jerome “Jerry” Chazen ’48 was a lifelong art enthusiast and an education advocate. A successful businessman and cofounder of Liz Claiborne Inc., Jerry will be remembered as a passionate man of profound generosity who found great joy in introducing new audiences to the art world. His commitment to the UW will live on in the Chazen Museum of Art and the many lives he touched.

Born to Rose and David Chazen on March 21, 1927, Jerome “Jerry” Chazen ’48 grew up immersed in the arts. He was raised in New York City, where music — especially jazz — quickly became one of his many interests in the city’s melting pot of culture, fashion, and opportunity. However, it wasn’t until taking an art history course at the University of Wisconsin that he discovered his love for the world of visual arts.

While attending the UW, Jerry met Simona Chivian through a mutual friend. Simona shared his enduring love of the arts, and they eventually married. After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics at the UW, followed by his MBA at Columbia University in 1950, Jerry went on to make a name for himself in the fashion industry. Although he began his career as an analyst on Wall Street, his mind for business and his passion for couture ultimately seated him as one of the four founders of Liz Claiborne, Inc., in 1975, and eventually he became the chief executive officer. He went on to found Chazen Capital Partners, a private equity firm in New York. Over time, Jerry and Simona made a family of their own, including three children, Louise, Kathy, and David.

“Jerry Chazen’s gifts to the university and the world go far beyond his philanthropy,” says Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association CEO Mike Knetter. “He was a great friend, mentor, and role model to so many of us who had the good fortune to know him, and we will cherish those memories as we care for Jerry’s legacy at the UW.” 

Having seen great success in business, the Chazens were drawn to bettering the world through philanthropy. They had been inspired to attend the UW by the beauty of its campus and reputation for academic excellence, and their fond memories from that chapter of their lives led them to contribute a leading, landmark gift to the university’s art museum, then called the Elvehjem Museum of Art.

In 2005, the museum was renamed the Chazen Museum of Art in honor of their lead gift, which made possible the museum’s 2011 expansion. Jerry and Simona’s transformational gift helped to double the size of the museum, making it the second-largest art museum in Wisconsin and largest among Big Ten universities. Champions of art at the UW, they expanded their philanthropy and honored the university by endowing the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art in the School of Education and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair in Art History in the College of Letters & Science in 2015. And in January 2021, they gifted their painting Danse Élanse — a nearly 15-foot-wide piece by artist Jean Dubuffet from 1971 — to the Chazen Museum of Art.

A man of great generosity, Jerry also gave his time and financial resources to help improve the lives of many, launching the Liz Claiborne Foundation to combat domestic violence, he enabled U.S. students to acquire a comprehensive global education through the Chazen Institute of Global Business at Columbia Business School, and was a critical supporter and helped preserve the original Queens home of Louis Armstrong to preserve the cultural, historical, and humanitarian legacy of the jazz great, and many other causes.

A funeral service will be held today at 9:30 a.m. at Riverside Memorial Chapter in Manhattan. The service will be streamed online and posted here for those unable to attend.

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