Words by Kaci Hamilton
It took me about three weeks to pin down Dean Singh for an interview. The fashion world has never been a dormant one, and with me trying to sit him down on the eve of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, I was actually impressed that we found the time. Drenched (we met amidst a thunderstorm) and with about 15 minutes to spare, I sat with Dean to hear all about his trajectory into the all-white cocoon of luxury and craftsmanship that is the Tykoon Brand Holdings showroom. I caught him heading for a much-needed cigarette break, and as soon as we hit the flooding streets, I saw how Dean had gotten to where he was, as this growing company’s brand manager. His easy swagger belied the organized chaos I knew was his world. On the street, he was like the mayor, shaking hands and holding babies, doling out the ubiquitous “Hey” and “What up” and cracking jokes. With three very distinct and varied brands to manage under the Tykoon umbrella, all of which run with the big dogs in their respective fashion niches, he had managed to make it look easy.
While he has been in the US since the age of one, Dean’s Caribbean heritage is unmistakable. First off, his first name is Denesh. Can you say, “second-generation only son to traditional Guyanese Indian parents”? That helps explain why it took him so long to get into fashion. The older generation of course didn’t see a future in it. Yet, like the West Indians lampooned in so many In Living Color sketches, he demonstrated the drive and determination to succeed (his parents are now totally cool with his job, by the way); it seems tenacity is the new elbow grease.
At Pace University, Singh had the foresight to major in business management and minor in business law, covering all the bases for the kind of career he wanted. “A business degree made sense for me, because I knew I wanted to get into management or owning,” he said. ”I figured business management and law would cover anything I could possibly get into.” The practical approach came first: get the degree and then do whatever you want. After an internship and a six-month stint at Salomon Smith Barney [now Morgan Stanley Smith Barney], Dean stopped kidding himself and started focusing on getting to where he really wanted to be. “Growing up I was always into fashion, but I never knew I could make a career out of it,” he recalled. But he made friends with his then girlfriend’s boss and when he ran into her at a party one night, he boldly did what anybody with no experience would. He told her, “’I want a job in fashion, and I’ll bring coffee if I have to.’ And lo and behold, I was really bringing coffee (laughs).” He took a nearly $50,000 pay cut, going from making $75,000, to $19,000 a year, but he got in.
So now that he’s fetched and ran, what does a day look like for Denesh Dean Singh? Oh, just making sure everything in the three brands of Tykoon Holdings, from fabric selection to who gets hired in stores, is going just right. There’s 8732 Apparel, a collaboration with Young Jeezy’s deeply urban line; Domenico Vacca Denim, a partnership with Italian designer Domenico Vacca; and Tykoon’s newest line, Private Stock Denim Company, which debuted this year. Don’t be fooled by all that denim. The suits in Domenico Vacca’s collections go for about $3000 and he’s not only been mentioned in the Robb Report, he’s clothed just about everyone who’s been on the red carpet. So a collaboration with Vacca isn’t just going to produce some jeans, it’s going to produce the Ferrari of jeans, retailing for anywhere from $565 to $680.
Now imagine having to focus on all the details at all times for all three brands, from marketing, to making sure the numbers add up, to working on product due a year and a half from now. Essentially, he has to be three different people for the three brands: the urban streetster, the Italian dude who hangs out on a yacht, and the young, edgy partier who rolled out of bed looking that cool.
A pack-a-day cigarette habit and an unpredictable schedule are non-issues considering how much Dean loves what he does. He’s involved in all aspects of management, as well as a significant bit of the creative end, inspecting swatches, researching trends and projections, coming up with concepts and colors for finished products. He’s not just some smooth talker hocking suits to department stores, he’s as much a collaborator as the designers. He also just has to make sure the books are in the black, too.
As our 15 minutes came to a close, I had to ask about the perks. Obviously, there’s the travel, which covers the globe, from Vacca stores in Dubai and Bal Harbour, to distributors and suppliers in Asia and Europe. Then there’s the people he meets, from Japanese fabric salesmen to buyers who have seen it all, other designers and CEOs. And he can’t not mention the parties! Everyone knows that’s where the real divine creations come out; but models and mini bottles of Moët aside, Dean says this business isn’t just for anyone who wants to sift through pretty clothes and schmooze. His has parting words for anyone thinking about boldly offering to fetch coffee: “Before you get involved, know that this is what you want to do. If you don’t have the drive and passion for it, it will eat you alive.”
For more writing from Kaci Hamilton on fashion, visit her site, Strangers Have the Best Candy.