Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner and cofounder, dies at 86

The fashion industry and the art world mourn the passing of Pierre Bergé, a “true prince of culture”, the cofounder of the Yves Saint Laurent Maison and the alter ego of Yves Saint Laurent himself. 

The death of their founding president was announced yesterday. “It is with immense sadness that the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris and the Fondation Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech announce the death of their founding president Pierre Bergé, which occurred on September 8, 2017, at 5.39 am, at home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence”.

“A whole part of our collective citizen and artistic memory dies with Pierre Bergé” Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.

“Bergé was born on the Île d’Oléron in the west of France, the son of a tax official and teacher. As a rebellious teenager in La Rochelle, he left school early intent on seeking his fortune in the cultural world of the capital. His story was an extraordinary saga of a self-made man who, from a modest start, ended up holding one of the world’s most valuable art and books collections” writes The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis.

“In 1958, the 28-year-old Bergé met Saint Laurent, who was six years younger. They began an intense relationship that would last the rest of their lives, morphing into a friendship, business partnership and joint ownership of an art and books collection. When Bergé met Saint Laurent, the talented young artist and designer had taken over as head designer at the house of Dior. Saint Laurent’s spring collection had made him a star, but when Dior let Saint Laurent go shortly afterwards, Bergé decided they should set up their own label and turn it into an empire. Saint Laurent, who was as shy as Bergé was outspoken, suffered periods of depression and Bergé became a driving force, organising the business and caring for him. Bergé became known as the imposing figure who ‘took care of everything’. In recent years, Bergé decided to sell his and Saint Laurent’s vast book collection and part of their art collection, donating large sums to Aids research and the two men’s charitable foundation”.

 

Anthology © Hedi Slimane

Businessman, collector and patron of the arts, Pierre Bergé was the companion of Yves Saint Laurent with whom he founded the Yves Saint Laurent couture house in 1961, and which he directed until 2002.

Pierre Bergé, 1957 © Claude Buffet

A lover of the arts and literature, he and Saint Laurent assembled one of the most important private art collections in the world, which was sold at auction in 2009 following the death of the couturier the previous year.

 

Pierre Bergé & Yves Saint Laurent, Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech, 1982 © Didier Fèvre 4.68 Mo 

Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent discovered Morocco in 1966 and fell in love with the country. They saved the Jardin Majorelle from destruction and made it what it is today: an important cultural center of Morocco.

Pierre Bergé & Yves Saint Laurent, Dar Es Saada, Marrakech, 1977 © Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris 

Pierre Bergé was one of the great patrons of the arts and culture in France. He served as director of the Théâtre de l’Athénée – Louis-Jouvet and president of the Opéra National de Paris.

Anthology © Hedi Slimane

An activist since his youth, he remained politically engaged throughout his life. In 1994, he founded Sidaction, France’s leading AIDS research and support charity, and actively supported groups fighting social inequality.

In 2015, the President of France, François Hollande, promoted Pierre Bergé to the rank of Grand Officier of the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. The following year, His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco, awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite for eminent service to the Kingdom of Morocco.

Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 2002 © Patrick Demarchelier

This autumn, he was to inaugurate two museums dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent, in Paris and Marrakech.

Anthology © Hedi Slimane

“Everything I didn’t have, he had. His strength meant I could rest on him when I was out of breath” Saint Laurent said of Bergé in 2001. They were joined in a civil union a few days before the designer died of a brain tumour in 2008 aged 71.

In March 2017, Bergé married the American garden designer Madison Cox, vice-president of the Bergé-Saint Laurent foundation.

Bergé died in his sleep at the age of 86 following a long illness.

All images via Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris and YSL.