As you know, we’re out of the UK on vacation right now but always with one finger on the fashion pulse and never far away from a cellphone or iPad so it saddens me to bring you the news that one of the most prolific, revered but also pretty silent figures in fashion has passed away.
This morning after a long battle with an ongoing illness, Pierre Bergé sadly passed away in his sleep at the age of 86. Now, if the name doesn’t ring a bell for you let me give you the lowdown on this absolute gentleman and one of the godfathers of fashion.
Bergé was the co-founder of the house of Yves Saint Laurent and life partner of the designer. The business man behind the brand. Whilst Saint Laurent bled creativity, Bergé held the reigns and made the corporate finance decisions.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bergé at the VIP Launch of the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective when it visited The Bowes Museum on the North East briefly (read about that here) and spent an evening getting to know this often feared, stern faced man. He spoke softly and told me that I had fantastic style and amazing taste in footwear, complimenting me on my Chanel ankle boots and vintage McQueen dress. I remember wondering why Bergé had a reputation as one of the most feared men in fashion when he was so small in stature and quiet of voice.
A lover of the arts and literature, he and Saint Laurent assembled one of the most important private art collections in the world, which was sold at auction in 2009 following the death of the couturier the previous year. Pierre Bergé was one of the great patrons of the arts and culture in France. He served as director of the Théâtre de l’Athénée – Louis-Jouvet and president of the Opéra National de Paris. An activist since his youth, he remained politically engaged throughout his life. In 1994, he founded Sidaction, France’s leading AIDS research and support charity, and actively supported groups fighting social inequality.
Bergé introduced me to the Curator for the Fondation Pierre Bergé, which was created over 40 years to preserve and exhibit the work created by the House of Saint Laurent and to demonstrate the cultural and historical significance the House had in women’s fashion. He invited me to Paris for a 3 day industry only exhibit and at the time I though he was simply being polite, until it actually happened. Bergé was uber polite and super knowledgable in fashion. Despite being the businessman behind the label, Bergé could tell you everything about every piece Saint Laurent created and the story behind it. I remember arriving at the Fondation in Paris and being greeted by Bergé himself rather than an assistant, and feeling privileged to be able to share such personal memories about the fiercely private pair.
When I heard the news about Bergé to morning I was on the balcony of my apartment in Menorca and I felt sad and actually pretty tearful. Sad because of the work that Bergé has done throughout his entire career to preserve and exhibit the most wonderful creations by the House he and Saint Laurent founded together. Sad because although I spent just four days with him, he treated me with kindness despite me being an absolute nobody to him. Sad because as an openly gay man he campaigned tirelessly for gay rights and ploughed millions of euros into funds with an aim to treat and potentially cure AIDS, and sad because the reputation which preceded him and cast him in a dark light was false. Certainly in my experience anyway.
Whilst Bergé existed mostly behind the scenes of this fashion empire, after the death of his husband and business partner Yves Saint Laurent, he continued on his path to preserve the legacy of the brand that they created together and Bergé had plans to open up two museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent in the Fall of 2017. Now if that isn’t true love then show me what is.
Rest in peace Pierre Bergé.
At the initiative of Pierre Bergé, two museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent will open in the Fall of 2017: 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.