The legendary business partner of Yves Saint Laurent passes away, leaving an indelible mark on fashion
Some meetings seem like they were written in the stars. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s was one of those. The pair met in 1957, when Bergé was 29 and Saint Laurent was just 23, but already a celebrated designer for the House of Dior. Bergé often referred to the event as the “defining moment in my life”; the two men became lovers and later business partners, working together for over four decades.
In that time, Bergé and Saint Laurent transformed the face of fashion, not only starting a business that in 1993 was sold for £500 million, but pioneering a whole new marketing model that used haute couture to boost ready-to-wear, accessories and fragrance sales. It’s a model that’s still employed by the vast majority of high-end brands, though Bergé recently decried today’s fashion industry as “all money and marketing”.
Far more than just a businessman, Bergé was a lover of the arts – something that was not only reflected in the way he devoted himself to Saint Laurent’s work, but in the Matisse, Cezanne and Klimt paintings they owned together; the Jean-Michel Frank furniture that filled their living room; the collection of rare books in their library; his later work as an opera czar and the museum of Berber art he set up in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Bergé was a generous man too – he offered financial help to terminally ill colleagues; supported gay rights and worked with AIDS charity Sidaction; donated generously to SOS Racisme, an organisation fighting racial discrimination; and backed the re-election of socialist president François Mitterrand in 1988. Jacques Chirac once described him as “foremost representative of the Caviar Left”.
To many, this multi-faceted man – who passed away last Friday, aged 86 – belongs to the fashion industry of yesteryear; a world occupied by the Old Masters, few of whom are sadly left. With a legacy that surpasses his work for Saint Laurent, Bergé is one of those people who made fashion what it is today and his impact will not easily be forgotten.