When Tiffany Marsh was getting her feet wet in Manhattan’s fashion world in the early ’90s, her boss, superstar designer Donna Karan, would sometimes give her a lift home from work in her limo. Imagine.
Those were heady times for the Canton native, equal parts hard work and offhand glamour. After her DKNY internship, Marsh designed men’s accessories for Ralph Lauren and The Gap, traveling routinely to Europe and the Far East, crossing paths with Kate Moss and Paris Hilton, and enjoying a swirl of parties and nightclubs along the way.
“I can’t imagine doing it now, not as a single mother,” she says about her fashion years, when she’d routinely work 13-hour days. “Once I was (back in Canton) for a few months, I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders.”
What does she miss most about New York?
“I miss walking up Madison Avenue and looking in the store windows,” she says wistfully.
She has a “small museum” of chic clothing and shoes collected during those days.
These days, Marsh is raising her 2-year-old son Luke, teaching art at Canton Montessori School, doing volunteer work, sharing a storefront studio-gallery space in downtown Canton, and working as a freelance artist, doing custom interior painting projects for homes.
“One great thing about being in Canton is you can multi-task,” she says. “Although being a mother is harder than any other job out there, hands down.”
It started here
Creativity and style have been prominent in Marsh’s life since her childhood in Avondale.“As a little girl, I was always reading the (fashion) magazines, and of course I’ve always loved shopping,” she recalls. Her mother, Patricia Marsh, is a lifelong fashion enthusiast.
“Fortunately, my parents had the foresight to send me to the Canton Art Institute, to the classes there. I started taking drawing lessons there in early grade school,” she says. “I feel strongly about parents’ encouraging their children to be artistic.”
Marsh attended Avondale Elementary School and St. Michael’s Catholic School, then Central Catholic High School for a year and a half before transferring to the Master’s School, a private boarding school in Westchester County, N.Y. While there, she got a taste of Manhattan.
“Our field trips were to places like the Met and Broadway shows,” she says.
After high school, she enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in psychology and English literature, and a minor in fine art.
Midway through her senior year, Marsh found herself “in a sheer panic” when she started thinking about translating her education into an actual career.It was while watching a Nicole Miller fashion show on television that a light bulb went off above her head. She loved drawing, clothing and New York City — EUREKA! FASHION!
After making a list of her favorite designers, Marsh resourcefully began phoning their offices and quizzing receptionists about internship possibilities. She was able to set up interviews at Tommy Hilfiger and Donna Karan, landing an internship at the latter that led to an assistant-designer position at DKNY.
“When I first got there, I had a hard time breathing,” she remembers. “It was so hip.”
After two years at DKNY, she moved to The Gap, then Ralph Lauren, then worked as a freelance designer. She worked and played, but mostly worked. Then two planes flew into the World Trade Center one sunny September day.
Marsh had an appointment scheduled for that morning with a lawyer about a new apartment. His office was “literally a block from the World Trade Center subway station.” A phone call from a friend fatefully halted her trip downtown.
“New York will party through anything,” she says of the 9/11 aftermath. “And it was silent.”
Back at home
Near the end of Marsh’s Manhattan years, her creative focus changed.“I was maturing out of fashion,” she says. “My interests shifted to home furnishings and environments.”
She worked with her brother Kip Marsh, a New York-based set designer, on the interiors of trendy Manhattan nightspots Moomba and Chateau, and The Tavern in Southampton. This experience followed her back to Canton.
“In 2003, I opened a business as an independent contractor working in residences. I’ve done everything from finely detailed paintings to custom wall finishes and architectural details,” she says.
Marsh painted a mural in one home that depicts the family members as a jazz combo onstage. She splashed the walls of a child’s nursery with a menagerie of Dr. Seuss characters.
Her latest project is painting a ceiling full of cherubs, requiring her to work on a scaffold a la Michelangelo.
“I think I have a unique ability to capture people’s ideas for what they want done in their homes,” Marsh says. “That’s where my psychology background comes in handy.”
She seems serene, reminiscing and relaxing in her sunlit Bliss Studio & Gallery at 334 Fourth St. NW in Canton, where she can paint and create while her little boy, Luke, toddles and plays.
“This place is a blessing,” she says, obviously very much at home.
Donna Karan: “She was very practical, with a wonderful sense of style. I found her to be very warm, very kind to me. She knew I was a girl from Ohio. I didn’t have an attitude … She was a wonderful employer. When we were working very late, she would hire a masseur, get us manicures. She always got us dinner.”
Ralph Lauren: “He was very nice but sort of scary, too. Very direct, very fast. Everything had to be approved by Ralph. It was very crushing if he didn’t like something, because he might be rejecting several months worth of work.”