Obituary: Jeigh Singleton, associate professor emeritus of fashion design, 70

Singleton receives the First Annual Saint Louis Fashion Week Plaza Frontenac Fashion Achievement Award in 2009. (Credit: Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos)

James Dennis “Jeigh” Singleton, associate professor emeritus of fashion design in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, died Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, following a long battle with cancer. He was 70.

A fixture of the St. Louis fashion industry for more than four decades, Singleton led the Sam Fox School’s fashion design program for 25 years. He also coordinated the annual Washington University Fashion Design Show, a fully choreographed, catwalk-style event that takes place each spring.

“Jeigh was a revered teacher and mentor to several generations of fashion students,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School. “It is a testament to his teaching that so many of his students — with whom he remained in close contact long after graduation — went on to build careers in the industry.

“Many of Jeigh’s students work for top designers and studios,” said Colangelo, the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts. “Many others have found success in launching their own lines. He will be greatly missed.”

Singleton with a student in 2007.

Singleton was born and raised in the small town of Plaquemine, Louisiana. Though his high school lacked a formal art program, Singleton’s teachers knew of his interest in drawing and frequently directed him to statewide art competitions. As an undergraduate at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he intended to study architecture but soon became fascinated with fashion design, particularly pattern-making and clothing construction.

After graduating in 1966, Singleton studied textiles at Kansas State University in Manhattan, earning a master’s degree in 1970. He then came to St. Louis for the first of several jobs in the industry and, in 1972, began teaching at Washington University.

Singleton was named director of the fashion design program in 1987 and remained in that position until his retirement in 2012. In addition to teaching, he took on numerous freelance projects, designing everything from dresses, sportswear and menswear to theatrical costumes, wearable art and clothing specifically tailored to the needs of people in wheelchairs.

“I am teaching my students to solve problems,” he told the Washington University Record in 1993. “My feeling is, if you can design clothing, you can create anything.”

Singleton’s numerous honors include a Distinguished Faculty Award, presented at Washington University’s Founders Day in 1996; the First Annual Saint Louis Fashion Week Plaza Frontenac Fashion Achievement Award in 2009; and a “Legendary Professor Award,” presented in 2012 as part of the Sam Fox School’s 83rd Annual Fashion Design Show.

Singleton died in Plaquemine, surrounded by friends and family. He is survived by a sister, Cheryl Piper, and her children. Services will be held Thursday, Jan. 15, at the Plymouth Rock Baptist Church of Plaquemine.

Many students and colleagues have posted tributes and testimonials on Singleton’s Facebook page.

Singleton in 2004