Co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent, 86-year-old Pierre Bergé, died peacefully in his sleep on Friday the 8th of September
Pierre Bergé was a French legend of not only high-class fashion but politics, art, and philanthropy. Fittingly, a brief and poignant message appears on the Yves Saint Laurent website: “With immense sadness, we have learned of the passing of Monsieur Pierre Bergé, founder with Yves Saint Laurent of the Maison. We share the grief of his friends and family and all those who loved him. Thank you, Pierre Bergé. You will be missed.”
Bergé was indeed pivotal in the modern history of French culture. His death brings the end of an era. An era which experienced its sunset with the passing of Yves Saint Laurent himself, in 2008. He had a driving force that moved beyond fashion. His influence spread deep into French politics, and his altruism was overflowing. Bergé was instrumental in pushing for the essential and fundamental rights of the LGBTQ community.
His beginnings are a fairy tale that evolved into a life infused with romance and passion. His business partner Saint Laurent was also his lover; the intimacy between them formed the foundation of their fashion empire. Such love affairs life usually reserves for the serendipitous few. Indeed, Bergé and Saint Laurent had a Midas touch that would influence decades of culture and style.
Bergé and Saint Laurent met in 1958, Bergé six years older and wiser. Saint Laurent a sensitive artist, a genius requiring space to create. Bergé created that space; he enabled the fashion label to be propelled into the exclusive property of the wealthiest around the globe. Yet despite Bergé’s passion for creating high-class haute couture, he remained a passionate socialist. During the Presidency of the late French Socialist Francois Mitterrand, he acted as a close confidant.
“True prince of the arts and culture”
Jack Lang, the former Socialist French Culture Minister, expressed his admiration calling Bergé a “true prince of the arts and culture.” Indeed, Bergé’s passion for art was evident in his vast collection of exclusive pieces, and an extensive library of rare collectible books. Only a few years before his passing did he put many of these unique and expensive items to auction to raise money for AIDs charities.
Only months before his death, merely in March of this year, Bergé married his long time lover Madison Cox. Bergé explained to the press: “I have lived two big love stories before, with Bernard Buffet for ten years and with Yves Saint Laurent during fifty years. Gay marriage didn’t exist. Today, I am making my relationship with Madison Cox legal.”
These love affairs were made into legend in film and literature, capturing the imaginations of the world. Bergé was a legend that, in his own words, was either loved or hated. Nevertheless, he concurred, he inspired people to brag to him once they managed to sit beside him. Indeed, he was a man of great opinions, and some felt he was formidable. At one stage, a woman accused him of misogyny. Such anecdotes fall in the shadow of his great legacy.
Dreams of journalism
When interviewed by Sofia Tchkonia in 2014, Bergé described how his nostalgia is for the future. However, almost in the same breath, he explained how he disliked modern fashion. Modern marketing was a farce, to Bergé. His pet hates being fashion journalists. He felt they were dishonest with far too much-undeserved power. Ironically, when Bergé first arrived in Paris, he dreamed of becoming a journalist.
At the tender age of 19, Bergé pursued his literary dreams and published and edited a socialist magazine. It attracted contributors of the stature of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. However, these dreams dissolved in an entirely alternative when Bergé met Saint Laurent in 1958. And the rest, shall we say, is history. May their memories rest in peace.