by Karen Alberg Grossman

Some personalities are too multifaceted to neatly summarize, and fashion industry exec Marty Staff, who died yesterday at his farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife Robin by his side, is one of those larger-than-life characters too complex to reduce to a few paragraphs. He was 70 years young and died from brain cancer.

His resume could in itself consume a book: from graduating Dartmouth cum laude as an English major in 1972 to building Saturday’s Generation at Bloomingdales (1973-‘80) to VP of sales and marketing at Ralph Lauren (1980-‘87) to president/CEO at Calvin Klein (1987-‘98) to president/CEO of Hugo Boss (1998-2002) to president/CEO of Joseph Abboud (2003-2011) to Chief Business Development Officer at American Apparel (2011-‘12) to forming his own consulting business in 2012 to CEO of BCBGMaxAzria in 2016, Marty knew how to wheel and deal, create buzz, and generate press with the best of them. Clearly, few fashion execs have had as profound an impact on our industry.

As editor of MR magazine, I interviewed Marty numerous times in the past 30+ years and found him to be always insightful, often outrageous, and generally fearless, worrying little about saying the wrong thing or being politically incorrect or inappropriate. How much of this bravado was real and how much performance remains uncertain, but I do know that I never had a boring interview with Marty Staff. One outstanding memory: the time I walked into a very conservative boardroom filled with guys in suits and there was Marty, brazenly removing his tee shirt to show off a new tattoo. Another memory: a photoshoot with Marty and two Penthouse babes when he briefly worked for that publication. I believe he was one of the only industry execs who ever graced the cover of MR magazine.

Marty on the cover of our September 2003 issue

David Fisher, former EVP at Bloomingdale’s and a good friend to Marty, is heartbroken to lose him. “I knew Marty for so many years, in so many different capacities that it’s hard to imagine the fashion industry without him. He was a very non-conforming presence in the C-Suites of the companies he ran and helped build. Not just because of the way he dressed or the color of his hair, but for a lightning-quick intellect and business-building creativity that matched it. He was a risk-taker, and loved rolling the dice on business opportunities and people… He won a lot and lost some too. I would venture to say that Hugo Boss owes its deep penetration into American men’s retail to Marty Staff, period. More importantly, Marty had a magnificent zest for life and wanted to experience it to the fullest. A true entrepreneur, he thought big and swung for the fences.  And in the end, he did it all.”

Tom Ott, former SVP at Saks Fifth Avenue and then Saks Off 5th, considered him a friend. “When I think of Marty, it always makes me smile. He was a great businessman who really understood the numbers and how to drive business and at the same time have fun doing it. He was always a good friend to me, offering advice and looking out for me personally to move ahead at Saks. I will miss him dearly.”

Designer Sal Cesarani was a long-time admirer. “Marty was a very unique kind of guy, as relevant as the day is long, extremely creative, and always cognizant of changing times.”

Kimberly Cihlar got to know Marty when she covered European menswear collections for Fairchild. “Our paths crossed often and I always appreciated his brutal honesty and deep insights for story quotes. He was a full-on force of fashion nature. The industry will surely be dimmer, missing one of its brightest stars.”

Kenton Selvey worked with Marty for the past 16 years, most recently at Marty Staff Associates. “Marty believed that fashion was about telling stories, and to that end, he was a master. He could light up a room with a joke just as easily as he could summon a brilliant business insight. From the outside, Marty had a rock-n-roll persona that relished the creative hurricane he unleashed. But those who knew him best, those in the eye of the hurricane, knew Marty to be a kind and gentle soul, fiercely loyal to his friends and deeply empathetic. A look through his resume will tell you about the brands he built, but he was just as proud of the careers he helped build. His defining trait to me has always been how curious he was about everything. He was in constant motion, always trying to learn something new or gain a deeper understanding. He asked a lot of questions and listened, really listened, to the answers. He made bold decisions, laughed off the pressure, and loved the challenges of our industry. Marty was a mentor and a close friend and I smile because I knew him. He would hate the fact that after 16 years of working together and relentlessly teasing one another, I get the last word.”  

David Pergola was hired by Marty at Hugo Boss in October 1998. “The assignment to repair a tailored clothing business that was bleeding units and retail support. This was to be achieved in six weeks. Two decisions were made which made this possible. First, we established Hugo Boss as a ‘modern European clothing’ resource. At the time, there was traditional tailored and contemporary tailored. We bridged the gap with modern. Second, and most important, Marty equated sales and marketing with entertainment, which turned out to be an unbelievable force. He wanted the fashion industry to come to the Hugo Boss offices to enjoy themselves and just hang out. It was not unusual for Marty to come into the showroom at 5:00 PM and instruct all the buyers and sales reps to close their computers, put down their pens, grab a cocktail, and enjoy themselves. The result was that the Boss offices were a destination for much of the apparel community. People got to witness the evolution of the Boss product into the go-to modern way to dress in tailored clothing, sportswear, and dress furnishings. Buyers and retail management, as well as the press, were eyewitnesses to the evolution of a brand from a ‘has been’ to a market dominator. 

“The biggest part of this tragedy for me,” Pergola confided, “was that this terrible disease attacked Marty’s brain, his greatest asset. It’s just not fair! Rest in peace Marty. You were a genius.”

Robin Staff, Marty’s wife of 45 years who is a dance producer in the city, wants Marty’s friends and colleagues to know that the family is establishing a foundation, Marty’s Fund, to put an end to this horrible disease and other cancers. A Memorial Celebration of Marty’s Life will be held at their Bucks County farm in August, date to be determined.

Those who knew Marty mostly through business might be surprised to learn of his other passions: spending quiet time at the farm with his wife, raising dogs together, assisting their Pennsylvania community in the development of local farmers markets, the preservation of land, and the expansion of the arts. Marty was also a passionate fisherman, a music lover, and an avid reader. He had a license to fly small aircraft.

Finally, a few words from Marty’s Facebook page under the heading of Religious Views: “Not formally religious but becoming more spiritual, and kind.” May these words provide invaluable inspiration to all of us, even as we party on, as Marty would have suggested.


  1. Sending my deepest condolences to the entire Staff family
    May you RIP

    1. I met Marty when my Canadian advertising agency that handled the Calvin Klein account.
      We were at the craps table in Vegas during MAGIC. At one point Marty turned to me and said “Ron, when I die, I want to come back as me”. There is less energy in the world with out Marty Staff.

      1. I worked with Marty for a short time while reintroducing SURVIVALON. Karen’s description of Marty says it all. Very smart – quick witted – said it as it actually was .. no words held back, no feelings were protected – I loved Marty for that and his real life brilliant crazy genius !! !! !!
        Marty died Las he lived – F A S T ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    2. I met Marty at Polo. Always enjoyed his insight into not only Polo, but other aspects of the “Rag” Business.
      Many people will be thinking of the wisdom of the words from Marty… I will!

    3. What a sad moment in time. Marty was a good friend to many. I am very saddened by this news. Marty knew what made things tick. That could be an aspect of business or people. Outrageous on every level. All good, sometimes wild, never dull. RIP Marty.

    4. Fun to be with , Fun to speak with and
      taken way too soon . Another piece of
      the Tailored Business is gone……

    5. Marty was in a class all by himself. Irreverent, irrepressible and insatiable in his zest for life and love of the industry. A treat to be around and always a friend. Our industry is less without him. Rest in peace.

    6. Marty.
      So sad to hear this news .
      As the ceo of diesel usa I had the privilege to meet Marty vis Jamie !

      Left a lasting impression!

    7. I was fortunate to cross paths with Marty through out my retail career. I learned a lot just being in his presence. Life is indeed short!

    1. The industry lost another giant and great person I was lucky to know Marty for over 30 years what a great person my he RIP We will miss those great parties.

  2. Such a perfectly written tribute Karen. The quotes from his colleagues bring back a rush of memories from a bygone error he certainly helped shape. The Hugo Boss showroom around the millennium was one of the epicenters of brand building, fun, creativity and camaraderie. From Marty’s epic Super Bowl parties to a cold beer and pumping music following a long buying appointment. He challenged me professionally as a young buyer and left me with many lessons I still use today. Cheers to Marty for squeezing every last drop out of the life he was given.

  3. I have the honor of calling Marty Staff my older brother.
    Our careers overlapped a bit as I was a buyer and then VP of sales at Speedo swimwear / Warnaco and then Adidas. While I always admired his business acumen I think his compassion, wit and his love of life overshadowed everything else.
    He drove everyone around him to be better.

    1. Paul
      My condolences on your brother’s passing. I knew him well during my editorship of DNR (1999-2001) and he was always mentioned during my years at MR (2015-2018). He was a remarkable man and I am honored to have known him!

    2. Dear Paul:
      My heartfelt condolences to you and to Robin. I was Marty’s massage therapist in Las Vegas, for many years at the Hard Rock. We all loved him, and it was just a great day when Marty in town. Such wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing him. Sending love to you all.

  4. Thank you Karen for such a well written piece on Marty. Marty was larger than life and so instrumental in growing so many of the business he led. He knew how to grow and develop a brand and have a lot fun along the way. I knew him from my time at Bloomingdales and interacted with him as a business partner at so many points in his career. Some of the best moments was being in a room with him and Jim Edelman. They were epic and will live on in clothing lore. He was a friend and mentor to me. My condolences to Robin and his family. RIP my friend.

  5. I got to know Marty at Hugo Boss. We weren’t big clients but you never would have known with Marty. When he spoke with you , you were the only one in the room.

    1. The industry needs more visionaries like him. Gone too soon for sure. Condolences to his wife, extended family and friends.

  6. May the lights at the Hard Rock in Vegas flicker and dim in his honor tonight. A bright, crazy, unpredictable man who injected enormous talent and fun into a then staid business. Those in his “audience” always waited to see what was next, as one could never guess what this magician would pull out of his proverbial hat.
    Prayers to Robin, his vast family of both two and four legged friends. Rest well, and know that many of your lessons will live on.

  7. I met Marty in 1978 as I was starting my career at Bloomingdales in their buyer training program and Marty was a divisional at the Short Hills store, in, believe it or not, horn rim glasses and white button down oxford cloth shirts! Over the years our paths would criss cross through GFT, Joseph Abboud and Peerless as we all watched his style, character and dynamic personality evolve, change, and sometimes surprise! He was a leader, a merchant and certainly a trend setter with his own sense of style. I always enjoyed chatting with him and listening to his many points of view over the years. So sad to hear of his passing at such a young age. I extend my condolences to his family.

  8. Thank you Karen for giving this acknowledgement to Marty for an extraordinary life and career… I am devastated to hear this news.
    My thoughts and condolences to his wife and all who loved him. He deserves all that has been written about him and more.
    Seldom can you say of anyone in our industry “He Took A Full Swing At The Ball” like he did throughout his career. So many wonderful
    memories from the time we met at Polo early on and as friends through the many Highs and few Lows.
    In my option our industry would be better off if there were more original and inspired characters like Marty Staff.
    I was lucky to know all sides of Marty and appreciated him, shared with him and learned from him.
    He embodied Knowledge+Experience+Style+Originality+Courage and much more.
    In baseball you can go to the Hall of Fame with a 300 Plus career average… Marty Staff knocked the hell out of that average and deserves being in our Hall of Fame.
    I was so lucky to have him in my life…. and there’s a long warm smile on my face remembering our chapters together.
    He will be missed,
    Gary Wasserman
    Left Coast Tee

    1. I met Marty when he was at Calvin Klein and as a Buyer I wanted the Brand for all the stores, but he held firm to a few locations, even after the Canadian Agent tell him it would be ok, we kept in touch via all the different men’s wear show. I remember Marty showing me a Tattoo he had gotten and was very excited about. Walking the show with my G.M who ask who was that guy! Marty you were always a gentleman to me whenever we meet. The industry will miss you. My condolences to his family. Rest in Peace.

  9. We loved to compete and i had a deep respect for Marty ..he made me better and showed me how to combine serious clothing with the sports and entertainment business….we had fun and he always had that smile and glint in his eye whenever we met…i will miss him and certainly the industry has lost another Icon…

  10. To Marty: Thank you for inspiring me, believing in me and making me feel like one of the cool kids. I’ll never forget when you flew to California to hang out with our team at Nordstrom, 50 Dept. Managers, and how you challenged us to think differently and then you were the life of the party after the meetings! You were always the smartest and funniest guy in the room, art and science!

  11. Thanks, Karen, very well written.

    Always was approachable: a true Entrepreneur and a Rennasaince man. Always had time for a chat and always had some advice for those younger than him. He was REAL!
    I am honored to have known him and will never forget him for what he brought to our business.
    My condolences to Paul and Robin “May his memory be a blessing.”

  12. While I didn’t know Marty personally, he sounded like someone that I would have loved to hang out with and learn from. His resume is impressive and his impact on the fashion industry will be missed. Rest In Peace Marty.

  13. He was at Bloomingdale’s when we launched a line of women’s seersucker fabrics at the Interstoff Fair in Germany, he made men’s ties out of it. We got to put our name on the ties. So we became new kids on the block. What I liked the most is the eulogy in the NYTimes : ” 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 find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better 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 “.
    A proof that good people can do a great job even be in the “rag” industry. The example should shine.

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