Monday, August 25, 2003

She has designs on a fashion career

UC student builds impressive resume with a little help from 'Sex and the City' and Stella McCartney

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Maren Hartman, 23, is surrounded by the designs she's made over the last couple years in her classroom at the DAAP Building at the University of Cincinnati.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Maren Hartman of Montgomery is an amalgam of the characters from HBO's Sex and the City.

Like preppy Charlotte (Kristin Davis), she's dressed in a trim pink sheath, dainty heels and a sleek ponytail. But she has a generous dose of Miranda's (Cynthia Nixon) freckles, unnaturally blue eyes, and the undeniable chutzpah of Samantha-the-sexpot.

"But I probably really dress more eclectic, like Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker)," says the 23-year-old senior in the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning at the University of Cincinnati.

She ought to know.

Hartman spent nearly four months in a warehouse room, roughly 100 feet square, sorting through triple tiers of Manolo Blahnik stilettos, Chanel jackets and designer creations from Dior to Prada for the show's wardrobe guru Patricia Field.

Palpable excitement

"I was like a kid in a candy store the first time I saw it. I just wanted to try things on. But that's a big no-no," Hartman says.

Part of her job was cataloging and photographing clothes culled from designers, pulling selections for fittings and scenes and sending them back to design houses.

Last year's March-to-June stint in New York's Silver Cup Studios in Queens, where the HBO show is filmed, was part of Hartman's co-op program in fashion design. UC students work in the industry every other semester until graduating from the five-year program.

Next month, Hartman is headed for London - and likely more celebrities - as an assistant to designer Stella McCartney, Beatle Paul's daughter whose fashion line is part of the Gucci Group.

The student's ultimate destination is Paris, the city she's been trying to reach since her first, dreadfully unsuccessful attempt to secure a co-op job there in early 2001.

She had been to Paris once with her mother and was smitten with the boutiques, the simple chic looks, the art, the architecture.

"I fit in there. I was in love with the city," she says.

She'll always have Paris

Facing her first co-op session after switching majors from acting to fashion design, Hartman was determined to work in the high-fashion end of the industry, rather than for a big corporation.

Her parents suggested she go to Paris for a week and look for a job.

Collecting designer names and addresses from the Internet, she mapped out visits and arrived on designers' doorsteps, unannounced and speaking very little French.

"I got doors shut in my face ... day after day. I was so na‘ve," she says.

With no work prospects, Hartman returned, and happened onto the Web site of bathing suit and dress designer Shoshanna Lonstein, former Jerry Seinfeld girlfriend, at

"There was an "Ask Shoshanna" button, so I clicked on it and messaged that I was looking for an internship, not thinking she would be at the other end," says Hartman. "But she responded and asked for a resume. Later, they called and asked me to come in, not knowing I was calling from Ohio. I said I couldn't come to New York for an interview, and they said, 'OK we'll give it a shot.' "

In New York, she worked as the designer's personal assistant, accompanying her to appearances, store openings and the market in Dallas.

Months later, looking for her next co-op, she cold-called HBO and asked to be connected to Field, the "ketchup-red"-haired costume designer for Sex and the City.

When they asked who was calling the legendary Field, Hartman boldly announced, "It's Maren from Shoshanna," and was connected to Field. A lunch followed and, eventually, her Sex and the City job.

Field, in turn, moved Hartman to her business, House of Field, whose designer, David Dalrymple, creates the outrageous touring outfits for Britney Spears, the Dixie Chicks and Janet Jackson.

Hartman helped in the design process, did flat designs (technical drawings showing seams, etc), pattern-making and cutting, and styled a photo shoot for rapper Eve with photographer David LaChapelle, director of the new Jennifer Lopez video.

"There I was going all over the city to major fashion-label showrooms picking things and I'm thinking, 'They have no idea I'm just a student from Cincinnati.' "

Field also hooked her up with a vintage clothing wholesaler who rented gowns to celebrity stylists, costume and fashion designers.

Turns out he is a friend of Stella McCartney's, and arranged another successful lunch.

Next month, Hartman is headed to London, as an assistant to McCartney.

"Stella and her collection will be bigger than any place I've worked so far," she says.

And Paris is still on the agenda.

"I will actually get to go to Paris because Stella McCartney is owned by Gucci Group and we'll go to Paris in October for the (spring fashion) showings.

After that?

"I'll try every possible trick to talk Stella into hiring me so I can live in Europe while I'm young," Hartman says.

Preferably in Paris.



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