Lee Leonard, one of the principals of the DLS Outfitters consulting firm, has died at the age of 74.
Fred Derring, president and founder of DLS, said he believes Leonard passed away on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day but wasn’t sure of the exact day or cause of death.
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Derring said he grew concerned when he couldn’t reach Leonard by phone or email and went to his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on Jan. 1 to check on him. He did not get a response and had to call the police and fire department to break down the door. It was then that they found Leonard’s body.
“We’re pretty sure it was a heart attack,” Derring said, adding that he’d had a heart ailment that had landed him in a hospital for 10 days not long ago and was under the care of a cardiologist.
Derring said he first met Leonard in Washington, D.C., some 50 years ago when Derring was working for the department store retailer Garfinckel’s and Leonard was at Farnsworth Reed, a local haberdasher. “I hired him to come to Garfinckel’s,” Derring said.
Although the two moved on to other jobs, they kept in touch. Derring, who had been working at a consulting firm, decided to open a buying office in New York City to help independent retailers compete with larger stores. He started the business in 1980 along with Virginia Sandquist-Wenzel and soon asked Leonard to join them. The company was named DLS after the three of them.
Today, DLS still works with independent stores providing consulting services to men’s and women’s retailers to “help them figure out the marketplace,” Derring said. “Lee and I handled all the men’s while Virginia does the accessories and women’s.” Derring and Leonard were familiar faces at the U.S. trade shows as well as at Pitti Uomo, where they helped specialty stores discover new brands and stay abreast of changing fashion trends.
Leonard retired from DLS in 2015 after he got married and moved to South Korea when his wife got a job teaching at a local university. He remained there for three years before returning to the States. Although the marriage ended, Leonard opted to rejoin DLS on a part-time basis following the divorce, Derring said. “I needed the help.”
In addition to his acumen in the fashion industry, Leonard was also an actor. Derring said that he decided to take acting lessons when he realized he was uncomfortable speaking publicly in front of the DLS member stores. But the skills he learned in acting school helped him to overcome those fears and made him a popular figure among the merchants he worked with.
Craig DeLongy, owner of the John Craig men’s chain in Florida, worked with Leonard for nearly three decades. He wrote on Facebook: “Over the years, the buying office of DLS helped us grow our business with their advice, direction and good deals. Lee was soft spoken except when he was handed the mic at any of our DLS buyer meetings. Then he sounded like a carney barking at a carnival. Over the years, I got to enjoy Lee at many shows. When we were at Pitti in Florence, I named him Leonardo. When we went to Charlotte, he became Billy Lee. Always the first to jump on the dance floor to cut a rug — God help the female sales rep who was standing close. Lee you will be missed terribly. You were such a great guy.”
Derring said there are no immediate survivors but he is planning to hold a memorial service for Leonard in New York some time in February after the men’s shows are over this season. A date and location have not yet been determined.