I arrived in Manhattan at the start of 2012 with a suitcase full of black apparel and little else. I’d heard New Yorkers wore a lot of black (and so they do) and it tends to dress up polyester, so it was a two-birds sort of deal. Once my rickety Greyhound bus hobbled into Penn Station, I would be attempting to sleep on my brother’s living room futon in Spanish Harlem. Luggage had to be minimal. It wasn’t a glamourous entrance, but I was pursuing a glamourous dream: to become a fashion designer. And not just any fashion designer – a red-carpet, world-renowned, haute couture designer.
My best friend back home (Manchester, New Hampshire, more or less) encouraged me every step of the way. Manchester is a small city full of people who rarely leave. My adventure was an anomaly, but my friend “loved that I dreamed big” and continued to cheer me on from a distance. She’d had plenty of her own struggles. I couldn’t leave her alone at a bar, couldn’t tell if she’d be sober at lunch, couldn’t leave town without praying she’d be okay. But she wouldn’t have let me stay. That’s the kind of friend she was: “Go wherever you need to go and do whatever you need to do to make this (dream) happen.”
The painful truth was, she’d been a victim of rape in college and never really recovered. It haunted her in ways I didn’t fully understand at the time, but the signs were everywhere.
We became close friends in the midst of challenging times. Our partners were friends and introduced us at a double date only to discover we were acquaintances from middle school. I was actually engaged at the time – at twenty-one years old, I didn’t know what I was doing except trying to escape an abusive family past by starting what inevitably and ironically would have been an abusive future as well. One New Year’s Eve, after my partner drunkenly berated me in front of a house full of people, my friend pulled me aside and said, “You need to leave him. I’m leaving x, you can leave this guy – we can do this. We’ll do it together.” When you are in an abusive relationship – verbal, emotional or physical – leaving isn’t that simple. You need support, sometimes a rescue. It was all I’d known, and this person, my soon-to-be best friend, reached out to me from seemingly nowhere and pulled me up out of a well.
She helped me with one step, then another, and once I was in New York she moved to Virginia, got married and had a couple kids. We both got caught up in our nonstop new lives, and eventually lost touch, but I was so relieved and happy that she finally got what she always wanted: a loving relationship and the children she’d feared she wouldn’t be able to have.
My life in New York was quite different. While I had big dreams, I had next to no money. I switched from working at a marketing and wholesale office at a bridal wear company to working as an administrative assistant at a hedge fund. It was there that I learned about Wall Street’s influence on international politics, and I was hearing ISIS updates in my conference rooms before “ISIS” hit the media. That intimate exchange of information lit a fire. Sitting with a dozen or so men in a conference room hearing about the world going to hell in a handbasket made me want to act. Eventually, the news was consumed with ISIS, and I watched a “war being fought on the bodies of women” unfold – the crimes against women were unspeakable. But what could I do? I was setting up meetings and trade confirms by day, drawing dresses by night…
Somehow, someday, I was going to fight this. Abuse is something you recognize regardless of social status, ethnicity, religion…it’s a taste you don’t forget. For me, it’s the feeling of helplessness that is particularly agonizing. Here, these women were experiencing that and so much worse. I knew I had a talent, but I didn’t know how to use it until then. I’m not particularly drawn to the frenzy of fashion, but design was the hand I’d been dealt.
That’s the thing about talent – you don’t get to choose. It chooses you…and then it finally clicked. Women help women. Globally our power isn’t predominantly political, physical, or monetary (yet). It’s in our ability to connect, to communicate, to empathize and to love without condition. We understand each other regardless of our circumstances. I believed, and I do believe, that a woman purchasing an $80,000 gown cares about a woman who can scarcely afford to clothe her children. I believe that women think of each other’s well-being, just as my friend did for me when we were still newly acquainted.
Creative talent is not an achievement in and of itself – it is a tool. I finally realized that if one is fortunate enough to have a creative talent, it truly is a gift, and the recipient has the privilege and an existential responsibility to protect and nurture it. Don’t question why you have it. Be grateful that you do.
I continued to work at various hedge fund and private equity firms, slowly moving closer to my design aspirations in the rare off-hours. My finance career took off in ways I never expected, and seven years later, I had worked directly under some of the biggest names on Wall Street: big bank Presidents and CEO’s, including at one point the former Lehman Brothers CEO, Private Equity titans – both in New York and London – and hedge funds brimming with multiple ivy league 4.0 plus GPA PhD’s. I got to meet Janet Yellen and Larry Summers, along with a slew of Congress members, Senators, and Governors. My living room futon days were long over, but the pursuit of my true aspirations was just beginning.
By that time, I’d designed custom wedding dresses for several clients. By the summer of 2019, I needed to find a permanent name for my brand – I’d experimented with a couple ideas, but nothing stuck. I’d been playing with the idea of Savage. I’d read about a woman named Sarah Savage who lived in the UK in the 17th century and kept diaries for decades until her death. She strangely wrote to her friend, Jane Hunt, who passed away due to illness at a young age. Sarah also wrote back to herself as though speaking on Jane’s behalf. I thought this was a bit morbid, frankly, but kept the story on the back burner.
Within a week of stumbling across Sarah Savage’s story, I received heart-shattering news: my gentle, kind, beautiful friend had suddenly passed away, the cause unconfirmed. Once the blow sunk in, the first memory that flooded my mind was of her saying, “We can do this, we can do it together.”
Many memories followed. All I could do was write to her. And I still write to her. I suddenly understood why Sarah Savage would write to her friend, even respond as her friend. Death is an inevitability, but in some cases, we still can’t bring ourselves to succumb to it. It’s a parting of ways, but it is not an end – not while we are still loving the person who’s been lost. Savage & Hunt is a continuing narrative between two friends, but in a new way. It will be a brand that, simply put, helps women – all women. Couture is for a specific demographic; beauty and dignity are for everyone. Savage & Hunt will strive to create a community of women who help and inspire each other by celebrating their individual accomplishments through progressive ad campaigns, messaging, and artistry, and eventually partnering with organizations assisting victims of domestic violence. It is a never-ending love letter to my friend and a continuation of her story as well as an echo of her kindness to me, one that must grow louder as time goes on.
I moved to London in September of 2021 in order to devote myself fully to growing Savage & Hunt. I’d said goodbye to friends and family, to a hard-earned career, to a city I’d grown up in to live in a city where I knew no one. When it came to couture, New York, robust as it was, could not offer the same opportunities London would. I sat in an empty apartment (not counting the same huge black suitcase I’d lugged to New York ten years prior) and opened a blank sketch book. I thought of my friend and how she’d said to go wherever I needed to go. We never would have guessed it would be this far…
I started to sketch what felt like the thousandth design – I had piles of sketches in New York – and at the same time, the first one ever: a beeswax rhinestone chainmail dress engulfed in a mass of bees and mesh, a depiction of grief swarming the body but coupled with strength. A year and a half later, after many laborious late nights and a wild range of obstacles, the full collection is complete.
Artistically, my designs depict tension, struggle, and victory – a Degas-inspired black “mourning” dress with Elizabethan austerity and opulence, the bee dress, bursting with adrenaline, a shredded chiffon dress resembling human anatomy encrusted with ombre crystals (the body), and an ethereal, hand-embroidered gilt ivy (eternity) vine-covered silk chiffon resurrection represent this couture collection. Each conveys a character and a chapter. Collectively, they tell the story I have just finished writing.
-Sarah Henry Savage