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Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

This scholarship promotes fashion


Marty Staff was a colorful, much loved and cherished titan in the fashion industry, a business that is as much about illusion as it is fabric and thread.
He once said, “As a child, people told me to reach for the stars, but all I ever wanted was to wander among them.”
We won’t know if Marty got that wish – but he did get a rainbow. Just as his Aug 21 celebration of life-memorial service was drawing to a close, a rainbow danced across the sky above Kirkland Farm, the Springfield Township home he shared with his wife, Robin, until his death May 11. He was 70, and they had been married 46 years.
That rainbow was a dramatic finish to the celebration of his life. But it was also a celestial sign of hope for the budding fashionistas who will receive scholarships from the foundation bearing the name of this brilliant, creative personality who unleashed his magic on the menswear industry.
As the fashion world mourns him, we in Upper Bucks are poorer for his passing. He loved it here – and he made a difference locally, too. He loved art, he cherished the land and turned his 180-acre working farm over to the arts in several ways.
Marty and Robin hosted the annual Art of Preservation Bucks County exhibits of local artists’ work each September at Kirkland Farm for nearly a decade after their 2011 founding of the nonprofit organization that brought together two of their passions, art and land preservation.
They also had rescue dogs, helped develop local farmers markets and sponsored the Silo Guest Artist Residency program, which provided affordable lodging and rehearsal space at the preserved farm for young urban dancers until COVID-19 forced its temporary closure. Robin is producer/director of Dance/Now in New York City and at Bethlehem’s SteelStacks.
Although I’ve known Robin for years, I only met Marty Staff a couple times at Art of Preservation events. His wildly colorful shirts and his curly hair made him immediately visible. He had a smile like sunshine and radiated a special kind of warm interest in people that made them feel special.

I like to think Marty’s impact on the fashion world was the result of the Ivy League colliding with what some call “the rag business.” A cum laude graduate of Dartmouth, Marty went on to become an executive at Ralph Lauren, later taking the helm as CEO at such brands as Hugo Boss, Joseph Abboud and BCBG Max Azria, while also working with brands such as Calvin Klein and American Apparel along the way.
At first, I didn’t know Marty was a giant in the fashion world. I only discovered that from my son, Evan, a business editor at Women’s Wear Daily. I was surprised when I discovered we both knew Marty. In fact, it was my son who delivered the sad news to me in May that Marty had died.
Details of Marty’s Light: The Marty Staff Scholarship Fund were revealed during the memorial service. Robin said Marty’s family and friends established the foundation in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) to honor his legacy and focus awareness on glioblastoma, the brain cancer that took his life, as well as other cancers. Established in 1937, the FSF is the oldest fashion-oriented education and workforce development nonprofit in the country.
Marty’s Light is an endowed college scholarship fund that will exist in perpetuity and extend Marty’s impact for generations to come by investing in talented students who aspire to careers in the fashion industry. One student each year will receive a scholarship of at least $7,500 as well as industry mentorship and career development. The Fashion Scholarship Fund will administer the fund and Robin will serve as honorary chair of a committee selecting the winner.
Marty’s Light is based on this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson – one that Marty treasured: “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.”
For further information or to donate, see