Arundel native David Hart builds his menswear business

Severna Park High School alum earns positive reviews from GQ, WWD

September 16, 2014|By John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

David Hart is a bit of an anomaly in the world of fashion. In an industry dominated by larger-than-life personalities, fickle taste and cutthroat politics, he prefers to play nice, stay cool and let his work do the talking.

"I really appreciate all the people that I've met and the relationships I've built," said Hart, 32. "I treat people the way I like to be treated. I really respect the talent of the people I've worked with. As a result, people respect me as well."

His approach has ingratiated him with the fashion elite. It has helped him successfully shift from working for labels such as Ralph Lauren and Anna Sui to branching off into an independent neckwear line, David Hart & Co., to developing his menswear line, David Hart. He has earned positive reviews from the likes of WWD, attracted celebrity fans such as Alan Cumming and sold his collection in Neiman Marcus and other stores.

"I've never been a big personality," he said. Unlike, say, fellow Anne Arundel County native Christian Siriano, "I don't think doing television is something I'd be into. I kind of like flying under the radar and doing slow and steady growth."

Hart's style is anomalous, too. His menswear line has a contemporary colorful feel while maintaining a classic, timeless nostalgia. The mix sets him apart from the nondescript blue and black corporate suits that clutter menswear offerings.

The individualistic approach is notable because Hart wasn't born into a fashion culture. Creativity runs in his family, but Severna Park, the suburb where he grew up, wasn't exactly a hotbed of style. He remembers the days of going to the public library to consume all the fashion-related material he could get his hands on.

"It was pre-Internet," said Hart, who is model-tall, sports stylized dark-frame glasses and has a propensity to wear tailored suits and occasionally a hat. "It really wasn't as instant. You really had to seek those things out."

Growing up, Hart used any fashion opportunity available to him. He absorbed every morsel of information shared during his beloved home economics class at Severna Park High School. He was "blown away" by a Bob Mackie clothing exhibit in New York. He cut his creative teeth designing prom dresses and other garments for classmates.

And he felt comfortable going against the grain in a town just miles from Fort Meade and the Naval Academy.

"It was definitely a unique thing — especially being in Maryland with the military culture in the area. I was definitely different," he said. "People always thought my designs were interesting. I was never teased. I think people really wanted to see me succeed and pursue my talents."

Childhood friend Andrew Davidsburg spotted the potential during Hart's senior fashion show — the first ever held at the school.

"Dave designed a few dresses. The most spectacular was the peacock-feather dress he made," recalled Davidsburg, who now works as the marketing manager and partner for Hart's company. It "was an incredible gown that had hues of blue, purple and green and more peacock feathers hand-sewn on than I could count. It had a long tail that flowed behind the model as she walked across the stage… .

"As a senior in high school, whose crowning achievement was a seven-page paper on 'The Grapes of Wrath,' it was hard to imagine someone my age creating such a beautiful piece. It was truly a work of art."

Hart fondly remembers his high school creations, including his first dress, a floor-length gown adorned with purple and red sequins, which he made for a classmate's senior prom.

"I'm still proud of it based on my experience level," he said. "Looking at it now, there is probably some cringing going on, but it was also 1998."

Others quickly began to take notice of Hart's potential.

At 17, he was awarded the Fashion Group International Scholarship Award and used the prize money to move to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Upon graduation in 2004, he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fashion design, with a specialization in evening wear and tailoring.

Hart spent the next several years working for designers such as Anna Sui, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. During that time, Hart honed his skills and made the switch to menswear — an area where he saw a void. In 2009, he took a leap on his own. He launched an independent line of luxury ties, bow ties and pocket scarves. He then expanded his offerings when he unveiled his first full ready-to-wear collection of menswear in 2013 under the eponymous label, David Hart.

"It's very ambitious to come out and do something on your own," said Hart, who has settled into a Brooklyn apartment that doubles as his design studio. "I feel like I had reached a point where I wasn't growing anymore. I felt that the next logical step was to go out on my own."

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