Pierre Bergé, a leading figure of France’s cultural elite has died age 86. The partner of Yves Saint Laurent for many years and a powerhouse in Fashion, Berge was also a first rate Art collector.
Bergé surrounded himself with artistic talent his relationships with Saint Laurent and also with the artist Bernard Buffet defined a period when creativity was paramount. His close circle included influential artists, writers, and politicians of the era: Jean Cocteau, Andy Warhol, François Mitterrand, Marie-Laure de Noailles and Dior, to name a few. He was also the executor of Cocteau’s estate.
“With Pierre Bergé, a whole portion of our literary and artistic legacy is disappearing,”-French President Emmanuel Macron
In 2009 after the death of Yves Saint Laurent Bergé decided to put under the hammer his collection of art and furniture to benefit his foundation. The spectacular apartment at 55 rue de Babylone which he shared with the fashion icon was dismantled and reassembled at the Grand Palais, the enormous glass-covered hall used for the World Exposition in Paris. For the public exhibit before the auction in February of 2009, lines snaked around the venue for days as members of the public vied for a glimpse of the couple’s magnificent selection of Art Deco furniture, priceless paintings, and ancient Chinese statues. The auction raised 374 million euros, making it the most expensive private collection ever to go under the hammer, according to Christie’s.
Bergé’s death precedes the inauguration of two Yves Saint Laurent museums in Paris and Marrakech, which the entrepreneur considered the culmination of a life’s work promoting the talent of the couturier whose existence was intertwined with his own. Bergé founded the Yves Saint Laurent couture house with the designer in 1961 and ran it until 2002. A businessman, collector and patron of the arts, he held many positions of influence: co-owner of French newspaper Le Monde, founder of AIDS charity Sidaction and former president of the Paris Opera.
“He was my family, he was a genius, I called him Superman!!! I am desperate,” said Saint Laurent’s longtime muse Betty Catroux, who frequently attended the brand’s shows in recent years alongside Bergé.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Bergé’s tireless support for the arts. “With Pierre Bergé, a whole portion of our literary and artistic legacy is disappearing,” he said. “It will be up to his friends and those who were guided by him to keep that memory alive and to help the French understand the importance of what he did for French culture and to perpetuate his work.”
Macron also nodded to Bergé’s habit of bluntly speaking his mind, which saw him engage in heated public discussions on issues including gay marriage and the Islamic veil, as well as entering public feuds with personalities including Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford.
“He spared no opponent in any of his battles. His sharp tongue, which some people objected to, was the flip side of a profound and total commitment,” he said.
Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of luxury conglomerate LVMH, said he was “deeply saddened” by Bergé’ s death. “He combined immense culture and sophisticated taste with a great talent as an entrepreneur. At the head of the fashion house he founded and managed, and the cultural institutions he presided, he contributed considerably to France’s influence worldwide,” Arnault said in a statement.
The Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent said in a statement, Bergé passed away in his sleep in the early hours of Friday at home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence after a long illness.
Top Photo: Pierre Bergé, right with Yves Saint Laurent in 1985