Inside the Mind of a Fashion Icon
Revealing the creative process that has propelled Marissa Hartington to such eminence in dressing the style-setters of Southwest Florida
Marissa Hartington's eponymous store has become synonymous with high fashion in Southwest Florida.
When it comes to women’s fashion, there’s just something about pink. Of course, we’re not talking about adding a pop of pink to spruce up a sober suit jacket; we’re talking about the pink-and-white building at the corner of Third Street South.
The eponymous owner of this iconic boutique is Marissa Hartington. Born and raised in Poland, Hartington arrived in Naples in the early 1970s. With her husband, Burt, and later together with their son, Jay, Hartington built Marissa Collections into a necessary destination for Southwest Florida’s best-dressed, fashionistas who favor the latest looks and most exclusive designers, such as Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Michael Kors.
As Marissa Collections enters its 39th year, we sat down with Hartington to learn more about the creative process that has made her so successful.
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On being organized
“I like organized chaos. I’m one of those people who are creative and everything is thrown around, but you know exactly where everything is. That’s me. Definitely. I’m a huge multi-tasker. You know, some people can accomplish things only one project at a time. They’re very organized, meticulous and they finish it and they go on to the next thing. And that’s wonderful, but that’s not me. If I were to do that, I would run out of time in my life.
“In fashion, you have to be here and there, you have to think about sportswear, you have to think about evening wear, this body shape, that body shape, this lifestyle, that lifestyle. You can’t be so structured. That’s the creativity.”
On growing up in Poland and the influence of her mother
“Growing up in Poland was challenging, after the war. The country was just devastated by WWII and then we turned around and we were in the grip of communism. The country never really had a chance to recover. The communist regime tried to break the spirit of the Polish people. There was nothing available. And when you talk about fashion and clothes, there wasn’t much. So I didn’t have that exposure as a child, except my mom showing me pictures from before the war, and she loved clothes. So whenever we could, we would buy some fabrics. We always had somebody make pretty clothes for us, and tried to be a little bit more fashionable.”
On the trouble with television
“As a child, I loved to be with older people and listen to their stories. That was my first learning experience as a child, to listen to their stories, and to dream. When you are in a more restricted situation as we were in Poland, for me, there was no television. Now we rely on some show. Everything is taught. You have to think like this, you have to act like this. I just despise what it does to young people’s brains. It’s another form of control for the masses.
“Growing up, the stimulation was from nature. It was from my father’s books. And it was from dreaming. As a child, I used to draw. I was artistic—not a genius, but I used to draw. I used to cut out dolls and design their dresses. That was my first thing as a young girl. And from that, I began to dream about America. We dreamed about freedom, freedom of thinking, of speech, of movement and the freedom to do what you want. And when I finally got here, it was heaven.”
On the relationship among art, nature and fashion
“I really don’t know who takes what from who. I know that particular paintings influence me, modern art, and colors from nature, the garden and sky. I walk on the beach and I’m influenced by the shade of the sand and the color of the water. And when I style people or I teach the girls here on our staff, I say, ‘Look, it works in nature, why can’t it work on you?’ And I always think, people are the most important. It’s not the clothes; it’s who you are inside and what you want to portray. Clothes are just the helper to make you more beautiful.”
On why it’s good to take a fashion risk
“I can look at the client and I know what she needs. I’m not afraid to push that envelope. I think we’re all artists. We have it. It’s just that not all of us are willing to let go. A lot of people are afraid of being judged if it doesn’t work. And I say no, why can’t we experiment? Why can’t we see how it works? If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And we all know. We will feel it if it doesn’t work.”
On mentorship and teamwork
“The store would never succeed without this group of people who are with me. I still pick every piece of merchandise in the store. But I don’t do it alone anymore. I have my wonderful buying team, and these are talented young women who put their trust in me after college. I’m teaching them, and they’re amazing. They grow very fast, and I’m proud of them. And, of course, Jay and Burt, my son and my husband, we’re all in it together.”
On her inspiration
“I have one formula that I stick with: If I don’t understand it, I don’t buy it. People shouldn’t struggle to understand fashion, how to wear it. They should put it on and feel great. Obviously, alterations are often needed, depending on a body’s shape. But to try to figure out what a designer ‘meant,’ it’s just too much for me. I just don’t believe in it. I appreciate it from an artistic sense, but from a ready-to-wear sense, what I look for is quality, craftsmanship, fit and beautiful fabrics. I want to buy beautiful clothes. I don’t want a fashion victim. And when we buy, I’m extremely particular about what I bring in here. And I think about the people who are our clients. I think about their lifestyle. I think that’s my inspiration, too. You ask about my inspiration? My clients are my inspiration. And it’s not a particular person. It’s their lives.”
On the influence of film on fashion
“You can see for yourself, I’m sure, when you go to the theater or watch Downton Abbey or The Great Gatsby, it’s so obvious. The designers don’t use the literal look of the past, but they use it for inspiration for sure. Films and music, they’re all intertwined together. You take the romance of the film—and I’m saying romance of the film in an abstract way—and you bring it into the dressing room.”
On how to follow a trend (or not)
“I believe in beautiful clothes, inspired by trends, but not literally followed. And today, a woman is much more independent in her thinking. She wants to look great, but she doesn’t want to be controlled by fashion. They want to have their input in it. They want to decide. So it’s a combination of them and me together. In the old days, people followed trends much more. It’s a little more free now.”
On helping her clients develop their inner fashionista
“I coach them, and after numerous times they see what works. They know that sometimes they should leave a little bit of room for the correction factor or to experiment a little bit. I don’t like for people to buy clothes they don’t feel comfortable in. You can put beautiful clothes on a woman, but if she doesn’t feel it, she shouldn’t be wearing it. I always say that. It doesn’t matter how fabulous it is; it’s how they feel in those clothes.”
On what really matters
“As much as I love all of this, it is a business. It is my livelihood. There’s a huge emotional reward for me in doing this, there’s artistic and intellectual self-expression, but people and their well-being is No. 1 for me. It doesn’t make me happy if I don’t see a really, really happy customer. The business doesn’t exist for me then.
“I’m very interested in what’s happening in the world. I’m hugely interested in geopolitics, and my favorite books are about geopolitics. I’m curious about the world and how the world interacts together, how we can live better together. Greater matters. I care tremendously about this country. And, really, the most important thing is my family and my friends. This is No. 1.”
We asked Marissa Hartington to tell us the things she thinks will be big in 2014. Here’s what she told us.
- Digital prints: “There’s a little bit of abstract imagination in it. They’re not literal. There’s a little science in it.” She especially likes British designer Mary Katrantzou.
- Modern romance
- Botanicals: “Botanical means not just plants, but also the butterflies, the insects, the nature. Botanicals in every form.”
- Floral: “A lot of florals, from little tiny florals to big splashy graphics, almost like a pop art.”
- “Minimalism in the form of black and white.”
- Ethnic/tribal and western prints
- “Neoprene; a lot of (these) fabrics feel like it.” She says it helps slim and creates a better line.
- Lace continues to be popular.
- Regarding jackets: “Biker jackets, sharp-edged jackets and the blouson jacket, which is kind of like a flight jacket.”
- Gladiator sandals
- Colors: cobalt blues, golds and reds
- For spring, pale pink is going to be “huge.”
- Designer Peter Pilotto: “He does a lot of amazing digital prints. He’s Italian, but he works out of London. Some designers have a powerful sensibility. Others just escape to past romance, or simply a serial fantasy.”