Marty Staff, a larger-than-life figure who worked for some of the industry’s biggest names during his 30-year-plus career, has died at the age of 70. Staff was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in December and passed away Tuesday at his farm in Bucks County, Pa.
Staff began his professional career in 1973 at Bloomingdale’s as an assistant buyer of men’s wear. Over the next seven years, in a variety of elevated roles, he grew the young men’s and boys’ department into a $25 million business and launched the women’s designer jeans business at the store.
In 1980, he joined Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. as vice president of sales, growing the business over his four-year tenure from $57 million to $350 million. In 1984, the company appointed him vice president of marketing, licensing and retail, where he supervised all domestic licensing; managed full-price and outlet retail stores, and oversaw corporate marketing.
He joined Calvin Klein in 1989 as senior vice president of retail development and licensing and in 1994 took over the position of president and chief operating officer of the Calvin Klein men’s wear division of GFT USA Corp., where he was responsible for management and operations of the $70 million clothing, furnishings and sportswear business.
In 1998, Staff joined Hugo Boss as president and chief executive officer and during his five years there, grew annual sales in the U.S. from $77 million to $200 million.
In March 2004, Staff led the J.W. Childs acquisition of JA Apparel Corp., owner of the Joseph Abboud trademark, and was named CEO.
In January 2011, Staff joined American Apparel as chief business development officer, supervising retail, wholesale, online and licensed businesses.
In May 2012, he established the consulting firm of Marty Staff Associates LLP, and in December of 2015, he joined BCBG Max Azria as president and CEO, where he guided the company through a Chapter 11, restructuring and sale to Centric Holdings LLC. He had continued in that role until his death.
He described his approach to life in this way: “As a child, people told me to reach for the stars — but all I ever wanted to do was wander above them.”
And in his office, he had a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in a frame. It read: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”
Despite his storied fashion industry career, Staff was perhaps most at home at his working farm in Pennsylvania, which he described as having “lush pastures for horses and cows and fields of corn, wheat and soy that are planted, maintained and harvested by local farmers. My greatest pleasure is to spend quiet time at the farm with my wife, who is a dance producer in New York City and Lehigh Valley. Together, we raise dogs and assist our Pennsylvania community in the development of local farmers markets, the preservation of land and the expansion of the arts in Bucks County. I am a passionate fisherman, lover of all genres of music, an avid reader and have a license to fly small aircraft. I keep ahead of all the latest technology as I am inspired by what it can do and the endless possibilities.”
He is survived by Robin, his wife of 44 years. A memorial is being planned for August at the Pennsylvania farm. Details were not available at press time.
His family and friends are also starting a foundation to fight cancer called Marty’s Fund and the Emerson quote will be their mission, according to a family friend.