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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Weiss, Peter William (1935–2020)

by Benjamen Judd

from Sydney Morning Herald

What can be said of Peter Weiss, a man who spent his life dedicated to the growth and success of Australia's creative industries, especially fashion and the arts?

"Peter paid it forward, long before it was fashionable," says Adam Worling, who had the fortune of working for Weiss prior to starting his own public relations company.

After a 10-year battle with chronic obstructive lung disease, and a recent diagnosis of lung cancer, Weiss died at home on Sydney's northern beaches aged 84.

Weiss launched his eponymous fashion line with his first wife, Adele, in 1975. The Weisses were a regular on the Sydney social scene and by the 1980s had more than 40 high-end stores across Australia. It was Weiss who paved the way for designers to develop corporate clients after being named as the designer to create uniforms for the Ansett flight crew.

Considered by many to be the 'godfather of Australian fashion', it was his mentoring and philanthropic work behind-the-scenes that earned him high praise from his peers.

"He was my employer, my mentor, my friend and then my puzzle buddy," says Worling. "I'm sure I'm not the only one he did this for, but he helped me start my own business by becoming my first client. And he didn't need to do it, but he did."

For Australian designer Collette Dinnigan, Weiss was also family, being godfather to her son Hunter.

"He taught me patience and how to be a better person," says Dinnigan. "He was a pioneer in the Australian fashion industry and the first designer to really commercialise Australian design on an international scale. His business was really much larger, and more varied, than many of us remember today. His contribution to arts philanthropy was significant and an inspiring example to others who could do the same. I will miss him terribly."

In a Good Weekend profile last October, an ailing Weiss spoke candidly about the world he hopes to leave behind.

"I don't think I'm one of those people who needs to have a plaque. That's not where I'm at," he said. "But I'd like to think that my grandchildren onwards will be able to walk into [the AGNSW] and see Captain Cook or see the [Opera House] rehearsal rooms. It's just my way of marking that I haven't just fluffed around."

Weiss described his marriage to second wife Doris as one of the "great love affairs." The couple, who married almost 30 years ago, were born in the same Viennese hospital in the same year, though the pair would only meet in Australia half a century later. Weiss has two children, Ariane and Antony, with his first wife, Adele.

His other great love was the arts – and it was music, not fashion, that remained Weiss's true passion throughout life having trained as a cellist in his youth.

His efforts in raising money and support for the arts, specifically orchestral music, led to Weiss earning an AM in 1996.

"He has inspired a whole culture of giving," Richard Tognetti, artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra told Good Weekend.

In December 2018, the Sydney Opera House announced that Weiss would donate $1 million over four years to fund new rehearsal rooms for its concert hall as part of the Opera House's $250 million renewal works.

Louise Herron, Opera House chief executive officer recalls meeting with Weiss directly after her infamous radio interview with Alan Jones.

"I finally arrived, and [Weiss] said 'I haven't had my coffee yet'... and we were having this lovely conversation, and I said I had to check my phone.

"When all the publicity about that phone call began going wild, Peter simply said 'Isn't this marvellous – we're just sitting on the sidelines watching the whole play go by as we enjoy our coffee'. And I thought, this was just so perfect and really reflected on the colour of Peter's humour."

"Peter's legacy will always be his generosity," says Worling. "He wanted to help people and once you had that generosity or loyalty, you had it for life. And the thing about Peter was he was so supportive that you never wanted to let him down."

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Peter William Weiss

  • Australian, 10 June 2020, by Matthew Westwood and Glynis Traill-Nash

Citation details

Benjamen Judd, 'Weiss, Peter William (1935–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/weiss-peter-william-30411/text37714, accessed 22 May 2022.

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