Percy Savage: Doyen of fashion PR

Percy Savage, an enigmatic, Zelig-like character, personified the world of fashion and spent a lifetime promoting it. Arriving in Paris from Australia in 1947, the year Christian Dior launched his New Look, Savage became a close friend of the great designer, who was to name Eau Sauvage after him.

Savage recalled, "I was invited to a brainstorming session at Dior's house but unfortunately arrived late. When the butler announced my arrival someone banged on the table and said, 'Oh Savage, always late!' Dior clapped his hands and said, 'That's it! Eau Sauvage'."

It was Savage who recommended that Dior employ the young Yves Saint Laurent. Dior heeded his friend's advice and Saint Laurent went on to become the most celebrated fashion designer in the world. By 1950 Savage had become Lanvin's first Head of Public Relations and his influence was felt throughout fashion. As Mary Quant said in the 2004 documentary A Savage Life in Fashion, "He stood over so much that came from Paris but he's also far more international and joined together influences from all over the world."

Born in Brisbane in 1926, Savage inherited discipline and determination from his father, Major Percival Savage and social flair from his mother, Marjorie Hall. He grew up in Brisbane, before moving to Sydney to study art and continue his ballet training. In Sydney he was a friend of J.C. Williamson, Joan Sutherland, Arthur and David Boyd and Donald Friend. In 1947, he set sail for England on a Commonwealth scholarship to study art and design at the Slade. Finding London cold and grey, and ravaged by war, he lasted two weeks before heading for Paris and a life of salons, art and haute couture.

Graduating from the Sorbonne in history of art, and a regular guest at the salons of high society, Savage embarked on a career designing silk scarves for Dior and Balenciaga. His style, charisma and exotic flair won him all manner of admirers including Jean Cocteau, the Comtesse de Polignac, the Baron de Bosmelet, Cecil Beaton and Michel de Brunhoff, editor of Vogue.

Before long he found himself at Lanvin as chef de publicité. At Lanvin in the 1950s and Nina Ricci in the 1960s, Savage overturned the established order of fashion promotion by circumventing a well-respected law issued by the French Ministry of Culture, which banned fashion houses from advertising their dresses in the media. When Elizabeth Taylor came to Paris for a film premiere in 1954, Savage met her at the Hotel Meurice and gave her a Lanvin dress. After she promised to wear it at the premiere that evening, Savage alerted the press. When they later asked Taylor who had made her dress, she replied, "It's a Lanvin. Isn't it divine?" The publicity was enormous and as a consequence, the ban was dropped.

Savage was the first to see the value of celebrities wearing designer dresses at gala events: what would become a staple of fashion PR. Jackie Kennedy and Farah Dibah were others who wore dresses selected for them by Savage. "PR is vitally important because it costs so much less than advertising," he said. "Advertising has huge budgets whereas you can get the same amount of publicity in The Times or The Telegraph for the price of a couple of good lunches."

In Paris and around the word he courted celebrity and commanded attention. He introduced Mary Quant to the American press, turning her into a global superstar; he hid Nureyev when the Russian dancer defected but at the same time was friends with Khrushchev; he dated Ginger Rogers and Maria Callas after her break-up with Onassis and was given as a gift by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia two pet cheetahs, which he used to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne.

At the end of the 1960s, Savage established YSL in London with Clare Rendlesham. By 1970 he had settled in England permanently and at the behest of powerful journalists including Ernestine Carter and Beatrix Miller, Savage set about elevating the profile of British fashion. His years at the forefront of fashion PR boosted the fortunes of, among others, Zandra Rhodes, Bruce Oldfield, Katharine Hamnett, Wendy Dagworthy and Vivienne Westwood. He instituted London Collections, putting on the first group designer show at the Ritz in 1974. With his ambition and foresight he paved the way for London Fashion Week and heralded a glorious era for British designers that led to the likes of Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and John Galliano dominating the industry.

In more difficult economic times in the late 1970s, plagued by ambition, an occasional temper and fierce competition, Savage was broken by the game and, finally, bankrupted. Beaten but not bowed, he carried on writing for various publications, mentoring young designers and even modelling.

Savage's happiest days were in Paris, where he lived the most wonderful life. His friend the fashion editor Suzy Menkes recalled their first encounter, "I was very young and shy and new. I remember this creature, this exotic, outlandish creature wearing a black hat of which you could just see the silhouette, talking to a very senior editor and he just summed up for me what it was to be in Paris."

He will be remembered as a generous friend, captivating raconteur and one of the fashion world's true mavericks.

Winston Cuthbert

Donald Percival Savage, public relations executive: born Brisbane, Queensland 12 October 1926; married 1961 Frances Coolahan (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1965), 1977 Alicja Sedniska (died 1983); died London 12 August 2008.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial