Marty Staff, the larger-than-life figure who worked for some of the biggest names in the industry for more than three decades, also served as a mentor to many during his career. A scholarship fund is being established in memory of Staff, who died last May at age 70 after a short battle with brain cancer.
Called Marty’s Light: The Marty Staff Scholarship Fund, the endowed college award and program is being administered by the Fashion Scholarship Fund on behalf of the executive’s family and former colleagues.
Robin Staff, Marty Staff’s widow, said that while he was battling the glioblastoma that ultimately killed him, she was determined to create some sort of fund to do research on the fatal disease. But once he died and the tributes began to pour in from those he’d mentored over the years, she changed her mind.
“The health care system failed us in many ways,” she said, “but once I saw the tremendous support and admiration people felt about Marty, I decided to go toward the light. I know Marty would be incredibly humbled by this.”
She continued: “Reflecting on the enormity of lives and careers, including mine, that Marty touched, and how much he transformed the industry he loved, has been my greatest comfort. As his soulmate of 46 years, I am committed to making sure his legacy continues by establishing an endowed college scholarship, in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund.”
Robin Staff worked closely with Peter Arnold, executive director, and the team at the FSF to establish a selection committee comprised of her husband’s colleagues, mentees and others inspired by him, including John Varvatos, Becky Mick, Susan Posen and Kenton Selvey, who will determine the recipients of the scholarships and then serve as mentors to the students.
“I met Marty 35 years ago on my first day at Ralph Lauren,” said Varvatos. “Confident, aggressive, and an out-of-the-box thinker was my first impression. I knew then Marty was a force to be reckoned with. In 1990 when together we launched Calvin Klein Collection for men, and the CK brand, I saw the real scope of Marty’s talents. He was a great leader and one of the most creative businesspeople I ever met in my career. Funny, crazy and lovable is how I would describe him. We got close in the last couple of years, and his passion and dreams were more vibrant than ever. His spirit will live on in the many that he touched over the years.”
Arnold said the mission of the FSF has always been to “find talent and move it forward into the industry.” He said in talking to people in fashion following Staff’s death, many of them remarked at how he had touched their lives and helped advance their careers. “Our mission is so aligned with the life Marty led,” he said, adding that “our students are not just design students, but business students as well, so they can study to do the kind of work Marty did.”
Staff started his career in 1973 at Bloomingdale’s as an assistant buyer and over the years held top roles at Ralph Lauren Corp., Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, JA Apparel and BCBG Max Azria.
Arnold said if the fund is able to raise $250,000, it can award scholarships of $7,500 in perpetuity, “but we’re much more ambitious.” In addition to providing money for their education, the recipients will have access to a lifetime of career support through the FSF. The first recipient of the Marty Staff Scholarship Fund will be chosen in December and revealed at FSF’s annual awards event in January at the Glasshouse in New York City.
Robin Staff said she is planning to announce the creation of the scholarship fund at Marty Staff’s memorial service on Saturday at their farm in Bucks County, Pa. She plans to be involved with the students as they embark on their fashion journey.
The FSF provides professional support to more than 120 scholars and 1,700 alumni each year through a network of partners. It works with more than 66 colleges and universities including eight HBCUs.