Yesterday we gathered at the Chelsea Piers to celebrate his life. Here’s what I was thinking:
"No worries de la Haba, I’ll be there by six."
“What do you mean you’ll be here by six? My show starts at six.”
(laughter on the phone) “de la Haba, learn to be fashionably late. Ciao, baby.”
Back Story: It was 2003, and Savoia was tailoring me a shirt-jacket and slacks for a special opening I was having at 48 Wall Street. The plan was to meet at his shop at 4:30PM so I could change from my raggedy-looking artist clothing into those that were constructed of sharp, clean lines, then share a few celebratory cocktails before jumping into a taxi in order to arrive downtown before the scheduled six o’clock opening—after all, every show requires a few last minute changes by the artist. But I learned on this day that the same could be said for master tailors and their clothing. At the time, Savoia’s shop was located inside John Allans on 46th Street and Vanderbilt. When I got there, there was no sign of him. I asked John, “Where’s Savoia?”
"I think he’s in New Jersey."
“What the hell is he doing in New Jersey?”
"I think he’s finishing your suit."
I immediately called Savoia, who was indeed in New Jersey making final adjustments to my suit.
“You told me last week my suit was finished.”
“The suit was finished, de la Haba, I just didn’t have the right buttons for it. We needed cream buttons for this.”
The laughter on the other end of the phone was pure Savoia—contagious and somehow assuring.
“No worries, de la Haba, I’ll be there by six the latest, I promise. And you’re going to look fabulous, I’m telling you. Now can you let me go please so I can finish up here?” (more laughter coming from his end.)
The first hour’s wait—from 4:30 till 5:30—wasn’t so bad. John Allan offered me a manicure and a few cocktails; I even played a game or two of pool. But as six o’clock approached, my cell phone had begun to ring off the hook; hundreds of people were already there and, it seemed, they all wanted to know my whereabouts. I pride myself for being on time, so when seven o’clock rolled around with no Savoia in sight, my stomach was in knots. I was standing outside on the street, a little furious to say the least, and far from relaxed. Why couldn’t I just go downtown now, I thought, solo and in my own clothing? Who would care? I’m an artist, a painter, after all, not a banker or lawyer. But Savoia’s clothing, like the man himself, was magical. And magic is worth waiting for. Still, I couldn’t wait any longer: it wouldn’t be fair to my guests. Also, the opening was doubling as a fundraising event for Art Start, and some important corporate sponsors were there. I walked back inside to tell John Allan I was heading downtown, solo and right away. Strolling in right behind was Savoia, suit in hand.
"Ha, ha, I told ya’ I’d be here, de la Haba. Come to the back, we’ll get you fitted and we’ll bolt the hell outta here and be only one hour late to your opening. Perfect, baby!"
With Savoia in the house and his work fitting me like a glove, all measures of time and frustrations faded. I was smiling and laughing with a friend who, also wearing his own signature clothing, was all smiles, too. There’d be no yellow taxi downtown; instead, it was a black limousine that Savoia had secured for us, which seemed to fly down FDR Drive. We made it to 48 Wall Street at 7:30. The place was packed, and the first thing that required my attention was the lighting. Nobody there knew how to turn off the overhead lights for the massive 10,000-square-foot space. My 10- and 20-foot charcoal drawings had under lighting built into their frames, and the overhead lights made everything look like crap. As I quickly made my way through the room, barely saying hello to anyone save for a quick kiss to my wife and child, I felt a sense of relief and joy come over me: I knew that all these people were here to see my art and that together, on this evening, we were helping raise money for a wonderful cause; and that, when I killed the light switch, my art would shine like Savoia’s clothing. The place erupted in applause when darkness fell over the room and the only lighting was that of the soft spotlights hitting the drawings dramatically from underneath. When I made my way to the center of the cavernous space of 48 Wall Street to begin working the room, I spotted my dear friend Michele Savoia off to the side, a huge grin on his face, beaming with pride. We were late in getting there, for sure, but on that night, with the aid of Savoia’s magical touch, I felt that I had arrived.
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