NEW YORK — Walter Singer, 76, an apparel executive whose career path was ever-changing, died Friday at his son Mark’s home in Westport, Conn.
The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis, according to his son.
A Detroit native, Singer stayed in his hometown after graduating from Michigan State University to work as vice president of sales at the swimwear label Rose Marie Reid. From there, he relocated to Cleveland and took a job at Bobbie Brooks, working his way up the ranks to executive vice president at the age of 33.
In the mid-Sixties, Singer moved on to U.S. Shoe and again served as executive vice president. Based in Cincinnati, he launched Papagallo, a label and retail operation popular with preppies, and J. Riggins, a chain of junior specialty stores. During that time, U.S. Shoe purchased Casual Corner.
In the mid- to late Sixties, he joined Federated Department Stores as executive vice president of special projects. By the early Seventies, Singer had picked up stakes once again, relocating to Miami to take a job with Caressa Shoe as president. After a few years there, he left to open his own company, Innocence Shoe.
Around 1980, Singer eventually found his way to Manhattan, signing on as executive vice president with Murjani International, the company that owned Gloria Vanderbilt. After Jones Apparel Group licensed the Vanderbilt division in 1985, Singer left. He then introduced ACA Joe, a little-known Mexican sportswear label to the U.S. Singer’s sons Mark and Doug inadvertently introduced their father to the brand by returning from spring break in Cancún with many purchases for themselves. “He was so impressed with the clothes that he contacted ACA Joe and set up a partnership,” Mark Singer said. “He opened about 20 stores — a lot of them were licensed to other people.”
As popular as ACA Joe was in Mexico, especially with tourists, the concept didn’t translate to the American market, so Singer shut down its U.S. operations, his son said.
By the late Eighties, the elder Singer entered a partnership with High Fashion and Jack Weinstock, and launched Diane Gilman and later the August Silk labels. Together, they took washable silk to the masses. After a falling out with High Fashion management and Weinstock, Singer exited the business in 1994, his son said.
About 10 years ago, Singer relocated to a home in Boca Raton, Fla., but he didn’t stay away from Seventh Avenue. He worked as a consultant for HMS Productions, helping to launch its woven division Spenser & Jeremy and knitwear label Cable & Gauge. A former colleague at HMS, Hale “Nubby” Alpern, said, “He had a great sense of humor. He was very strong-willed and he pushed for his ideas.”
In recent years, Singer worked as a consultant at Neo-Concept, the private label company here where his son Mark still works as chief executive officer. “He had great vision. He saw opportunities before most people did,” Mark Singer said. “He spoke his mind, no matter how well he knew you or whether you liked to hear it or not.”
Krissy Blakeway, a designer who worked with him when he was at High Fashion, agreed. “Most people he talked to would walk in to do one plan and would come out having bought twice as much.”
In addition to his sons, Singer is survived by two daughters, Ricki and Linda. A memorial service is scheduled for April 3 at Lusardi’s, his favorite restaurant in New York.