Friends Remember a Daring Designer

Written by Mary Newman on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown.


Michele Savoia had just shown his latest collection at Fashion Week when he died accidentally in the Hudson River

Photo by Luigi Scorcia

Photo by Luigi Scorcia

Savoia had an unmistakable syle, combining his love for rock and roll, mobsters, and vintage men’s suiting. He lived life on the edge, and many of his friends were surprised to see his life end the way it did.

The designer grew up in Hoboken, what he described as “right around the corner from Sintatra’s house.” He inherited his style and ability to sew from his Sicilian father and grandfather. “Basically, my father taught me how to dress, and Popop taught me how to tailor,” he told the Daily Beast in 2011. He grew up working in his grandfather’s tailor shop, located around the corner from his childhood home.

Despite his party boy reputation, he brought the same “all or nothing” attitude to his fashion career that started when he worked as a manager of a busy menswear shop in Manhattan at age 13. After earning a degree in menswear from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1978, he opened his own store on Essex Street only 6 years later.

Photographer and longtime friend Luigi Scorcia said, “Savoia knew how to live every day like it was his last.” They had met in Brooklyn at a barbecue in the 1980s, and partnered to open up their club The Fat Black Pussy Cat in Miami. Together, with their eccentric group of friends, they partied and dressed like they were part of Al Capone’s crew. “We hung out like a gang, Savoia was way more of a character than any of the guys in [the movie] Goodfellas,” Scorcia said.

Savoia had been working on several new projects, and wasn’t even supposed to be in New York the night he died. He had planned to be in Miami to work with his friend Leanne Zaleski. She told us that his trip was cancelled due to the inclement weather and approaching snowstorm. He was scheduled to talk to a group of high school students attending the Design & Architecture Senior High School.

Leanne was also collaborating with Savoia to design for the 100 percent hemp clothing line Hoodlamb. Since many considered him the “bad boy of fashion,” Zaleski thought Savoia was the perfect choice for this project, which is fighting for the legalization of marijuana.

Photo by Mary Newman

Photo by Mary Newman

Friends and loved ones gathered at Pier 59 this past Sunday to share a moment of silence and remember their dear friend. His girlfriend Juli Berg shared the closure she found by seeing Savoia after the police found him near his boat on Sunday February 16th. She described him as looking very peaceful, and brought the somber crowd some comedic relief, saying “Only Savoia could look so great in death.”

It looked like a scene from the Godfather; the entire crowd was dressed to the nines. Some of the men wore his beautiful custom made suits, and several women wore fur coats, since the designer was wearing a favorite fur coat of his the night he died. They remembered their friend’s fierce approach to life, sharing the many times Savoia had come close to death while living his life.

“Savoia went out like a rock star. It doesn’t matter how you die, it’s how you lived your life,” said Scorcia. After a moment of silence, the crowd held hands and yelled his name out into the harbor. Following the memorial, they walked down to his yacht throwing roses and Budweiser cans into the river to honor the life that he lived so fearlessly.

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