Pierre Bergé, the man largely credited with building the Yves Saint Laurent brand into a global luxury label, has died at age 86. While it was of course the designer, Saint Laurent, who was the creative force behind the brand, Bergé drove the business and became hugely influential not just for the fashion brand he built with his lover, Saint Laurent, but also in cultural and political spheres—un éminence grise, if you will, and ultimately a profoundly influential figure in his own right.
If you haven’t seen L’Amour Fou (Crazy Love), the 2010 documentary about the pair, you must. In it, director Pierre Thoretton explores their complex relationship. Demons can accompany creative genius, and Saint Laurent battled depression and addiction. Bergé, who was not given to public displays of emotion, was the stoical support system, steering the designer, and the brand they built, through his lover’s bipolar highs and lows.
Bergé was certainly polarizing, though—both revered for his generosity and reviled for his prickly and sometimes controversial business practices. The obstinate aesthete was a prominent patron of the arts, collecting, with Saint Laurent, what was considered to be one of the most important private collections of art in the world. Works by artists including Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, and Andy Warhol were included in a Christie’s auction of the pair’s art collection following Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. While their romantic relationship lasted 20 years, the pair separated in the late 1970s. They continued their business partnership though, and remained close. While they didn’t reconcile romantically, days before Saint Laurent died, the two were joined in a civil partnership.
Despite his bristly facade, Bergé was fiercely philanthropic. He donated millions of dollars to support AIDS research, was a huge supporter of gay rights, served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador—the list goes on. He helped found the politically leftist French magazine Globe in 1988, which supported the reelection of president François Mitterrand. Bergé is credited in part with Mitterand’s success, and in the same year, the president appointed Bergé as president of Opéra Bastille.
His life and list of achievements are truly monumental, and in a statement released today by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, it is was announced that Bergé died peacefully in his sleep at his home in St-Remy-de-Provence. He fought a long battle with neuromuscular disorder, myopathy, and is survived by his husband, American landscape gardener Madison Cox, whom he married in March of this year. Beyond his legacy in the arts and politics, the foundation’s statement notes that, “at his initiative, two museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent will be opening this autumn: in Paris, on October 3rd, in the former premises of the haute couture house, and in Marrakech, on October 19th, in a new building next to the Jardin Majorelle.”
In a statement released by The Maison Yves Saint Laurent, the brand’s artistic director, Anthony Vaccarello said, “It is with a deep emotion that I have learned of Pierre Bergé’s passing, he welcomed me with kindness since my first day at Saint Laurent. His advice and his support have always guided me. I am infinitely sad that he will not be able to attend the opening of the two museums in Paris and Marrakech that he cared about so much. A great figure in french culture has left us.” While his death is a loss to so many, his was a truly remarkable life.