“It is with immense sadness that the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris and the Fondation Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech, announce the death of their founding president Pierre Bergé, which occurred on September 8, 2017, at 5:39 am, at home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He died in his sleep at the age of 86 following a long illness,” read a statement from the fashion house.
“He was a magician who made his life and those who he loved a symphony of happiness,” former French culture minister Jack Lang said. “Pierre Bergé was above all a marvelous and loyal friend, who was there to take on all the good fights, the noble causes, in particular to provide the means for research to defeat AIDS.”
Bergé met Saint Laurent in 1958 and they began a relationship (it was love at first conversation about everything but fashion – and from then on it was all about Yves). In 1961, they launched the iconic fashion house together. Although their romantic involvement ended in 1976, Bergé remained by the designer’s side until he died of a brain tumor in 2008. He was crucial to the 20th-century change in couture from a craft enterprise to an international megabusiness.
“It is with great emotion that I learn of the death of Pierre Bergé, a person integral to the history of the House of Yves Saint Laurent. 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. 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. A man I deeply respect,” stated Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering—the parent company of Saint Laurent.
In addition to his work in fashion, he also became known as philanthropist, becoming a vocal and active campaigner for gay rights and AIDS research. In 2015, he was awarded one of France’s highest accolades—the Grand Officier of the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur.
YSL ready-to-wear was merely Bergé’s initial bold move; as company president, he sold its rights in 1971 for capital to invest in a different way of staging couture shows, more like rock concerts, with clothes as loss-leaders to promote licensed accessories and perfumes. (YSL made enough to buy back the rights in 1973.) Bergé made complex deals when the luxury conglomerates of today had not yet managed their first merger; in 1986 he sold 25% of YSL for enough to buy Charles of the Ritz, which owned rights to Saint Laurent perfumes and cosmetics.
In 1989, the YSL group, with its Bergé–generated internal synergy, was the first designer house listed on the Paris Bourse, oversubscribed by 27 times. Those who got shares did exceptionally well for a while, but Bergé did better. He was fined 1m francs for insider trading, selling shares just before an announcement of plunging profits, while the pharmaceutical company Elf Sanofi paid over the market rate for the 44% of the capital held by Saint Laurent and Bergé before purchasing the group in 1993. Sanofi sold it on to Gucci in 1999, still with the vestigial involvement of Saint Laurent and Bergé, who did not leave as president until 2002.