The French businessman and art patron was the life and business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, who died in 2008 at the age of 71. They formed the famous fashion house in 1961. The two married in a civil ceremony in the final year of Saint Laurent’s life.
“I will always remember him as a man instilled with a fertile tension between avant-gardism and the will to work relentlessly to inscribe creation in history,” says chairman/CEO François-Henri Pinault of Kering, which now owns the Yves Saint Laurent brand.
“From the outset, he wished to preserve all the archives of Yves Saint Laurent’s work, an inestimable patrimony that will soon be made available for the public the world over to see in exceptional museums.
“This man who has just left us was a great cultural figure, and a man with convictions he fought tirelessly to uphold. Pierre Bergé was at the same time a visionary precursor, a great patron, a creative and passionate businessman and a defender of noble and universal causes. He was a tireless patron of young creation, notably through the Andam Association (Association Nationale des Arts de la Mode) he had created. He was also a generous patron of heritage.”
LVMH chairman/CEO Bernard Arnault says Bergé’s vast cultural knowledge and refined taste made him a great pioneer. “He made a considerable contribution to France’s spotlight in the world, both by the maison he founded and directed, as well as the cultural institutions he presided over.”
Bergé was born on the Île d’Oléron in 1930. The son of a schoolteacher and a civil servant, he took an early interest in literature. When he moved to Paris in 1948 he became a book dealer specialising in first editions. He socialised with writers including Albert Camus, André Breton, Jean Cocteau (for whose work he owned rights), Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Aragon.
In 1958 he met Yves Saint Laurent, then head designer at Christian Dior. After Saint Laurent had been conscripted for military service, Bergé helped stage his return with the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture house in 1961. Bergé would manage it until 2002.
Bergé was the founding president of the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, which was recognised as a national institution in 2002 and works to conserve Saint Laurent’s body of work, organise exhibitions, and support cultural and educational activities.
In the 1960s, Bergé expanded Saint Laurent’s business from haute couture into the far more profitable ready-to-wear market; he established Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutiques in Paris, New York and other cities.
In 1986 he sold 25 per cent of the Saint Laurent business to Italian entrepreneur Carlo de Benedetti, using the money to buy Charles of the Ritz, which owned designer perfumes including several Saint Laurent fragrances like Opium and Rive Gauche.
In 1993, Bergé and Saint Laurent sold the YSL Groupe for US$655 million to French pharmaceutical giant Elf Sanofi, which in 1999 sold the group to Gucci.
Bergé’s death comes as two new major museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent are to be opened by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent.