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Pierre Bergé, former partner of Yves Saint Laurent, dies at 86

The business brains behind the Yves Saint Laurent house, and a long-time supporter of Aids initiatives, died at his home after a long illness
September 8, 2017/12.08

Luc Castel

Pierre Bergé, photographed at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, 2017.

Pierre Bergé, best known as the power behind the Yves Saint Laurent label, died in his sleep at his home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France on Friday at 5.39 a.m., aged 86.
   Bergé had died from myopathy, a muscular disorder, according to the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent.
   As covered in Lucire issue 37, Bergé met Saint Laurent in 1958, and soon became romantically involved. Bergé had rescued the ailing designer from a military hospital when he was sent on national service. Bergé encouraged Saint Laurent to sue his employer, Christian Dior, for breach of contract, after discovering that Marc Bohan had been installed as creative director in his place. With the Fr680,000 judgement, the couple started the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1961, and remained business partners in the company despite their personal relationship ending in the 1980s.
   Bergé helmed the fashion house till 2002, when Saint Laurent retired, after which he set up and ran the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent.
   Born November 14, 1930 on the Île d’Oléron, Bergé moved to Paris in his teens, and had an interest in leftist politics from a young age. He had been arrested during a political demonstration and spent the night in jail with Albert Camus. Afterwards, at 19, Bergé became the editor and publisher of a left-wing magazine to which Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre contributed. In 1950, he met the painter Bernard Buffet, and the two men became lovers, with Bergé managing Buffet’s carrer, until Bergé left him for Saint Laurent.
   After launching the house of Yves Saint Laurent, Bergé worked behind the scenes as manager and publicist, and expanded the brand into ready-to-wear, accessories, and fragrances. In the 1970s, Bergé chaired the Chambre syndicale du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode, an industry group instigated by fashion executive Jacques Mouclier. Bergé was a founder of the Musée des arts de la mode, which staged YSL exhibitions in Paris, Moskva and Beijing. The couple lived lavishly with homes in France, Morocco and New York. In 1980, they bought the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, and in 2011, Bergé opened the Berber Museum there, educating visitors about the Amazigh people.
   However, by the mid-1980s, Bergé and Saint Laurent no longer lived together, although they continued their business relationship. He set up the magazine Globe in 1988, promoting causes he had an interested in; in politics, he often angered those whom he opposed, including Jacques Chirac during the 1988 presidential election (Bergé supported the incumbent, François Mitterand).
   Mitterand put him in charge of the Opéra National de Paris, where in January 1989 he fired Daniel Barenboim, the Opéra Bastille’s musical director, over a salary dispute, replacing him with the Korean pianist and conductor Myung-Whun Chung. Bergé had a tumultuous time as head of the Opéra National de Paris, with often negative reviews and fewer performances than he had promised, though he noted he was able to increase the attendance.
   In 1989, Bergé guided the house to its listing on the Bourse, to massive success, and in 1993, he sold his and Saint Laurent’s 44 per cent holding to Elf Sanofi for US$655 million, but the pair remained in charge of the haute couture business. He had been found guilty of insider trading in the 1990s, and fined. Also in 1993, he was replaced as head of the Opéra Paris.
   Bergé donated to S.O.S. Racisme, an anti-xenophobic group, and was president of Arcad SIDA, which financed Aids research. He helped set up Sidaction, which holds initiatives to raise funds for Aids, in 1994, and became its president in 1996. In 1995, he directed the gay magazine Têtu, which lasted till 2015, though it was eventually revived as an online-only title in 2017.
   In 2010, he bought a stake in Le Monde. In 2014, during the filming of Yves Saint Laurent, the Fondation loaned clothes from its archive to ensure authenticity. In 2015, French president François Hollande promoted Pierre Bergé to the rank of Grand Officier of the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. In 2016, HM Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite for eminent service to the Kingdom of Morocco.
   In March 2017, Bergé married his long-time partner, Madison Cox, a landscape architect, who survives him.
   This year, Bergé would have inaugurated two Yves Saint Laurent museums, in Paris and in Marrakech.

Claude Buffet

© Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris/Guy Marineau

Patrick Demarchelier

Above, from top: Pierre Bergé in 1957. Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, Dar-es-Saada, Marrakech, 1977. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé at the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 2002.

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