By  on June 22, 2007

NEW YORK — For Dennis Basso, being named Fur New York's 2007 "Man of the Year" was part of a long journey.

No one was more grateful for the 26 years of work that led up to the honor than the designer himself. Speakers at Tuesday's celebratory dinner here singled out his celebrity-studded fashion shows at five-star hotels, socialite customers and Hamptons getaways as signposts of his success, but Basso recalled simpler days.

The New York-born, New Jersey-bred designer said he was 27 years old when he answered an ad placed by Hy Fishman Furs. During the job interview, he noticed a woman in a black uniform, whom he assumed was a maid, serving people coffee in the Seventh Avenue showroom and he thought, "I want to work here." But his assumption turned out to be wrong. The woman in the black dress was the head finisher who was in mourning for her husband. She was getting coffee for her department. "So much for the glamour," he laughed.

But Basso embraced his job with gusto. "I loved it and thought it was so fascinating to work with something that was so luxurious," he said. "Little did I know I would be painting the showroom and doing whatever else that was needed."

When a friend's request to buy a two-skin fox jacket wholesale was nixed by Basso's boss, he lined up one from another furrier, and before long was selling fur coats on the side at night. "It was my own version of the Tupperware party," he said.

That lasted until his employer caught wind of the moonlighting and fired him. Relying on the companies that had helped him start his side job, Basso put together a small collection and opened a 400-square-foot showroom. Basso recalled using what his late father presumed would be seed money for the business and blew it all on his first runway show at the Regency Hotel. But that kind of showmanship — a novel approach for the fur industry — helped distinguish Basso as a designer. "It was very well-spent," he said.

Addressing the crowd at Murano's Restaurant, Basso said, "If any of you are ever near my store on Madison Avenue, you should come in for a cup of coffee that will be served to you on a silver tray by a woman in a black maid's uniform who is not in mourning."

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