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Yves Saint Laurent (left) and Pierre Bergé (right) in a photograph from the documentary L’Amour Fou, 2010. Photo: Alice Springs via Sundance Selects

Pierre Bergé (1930–2017)

Pierre Bergé, the French businessman and longtime partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent, died in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, on Friday, Jonathan Kandell of the New York Times reports. The eighty-six-year-old’s passing was first announced by the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.

Born on November 14, 1930, on Ile d’Oleron off the Atlantic coast of France, Bergé is best known as the driving force behind the Yves Saint Laurent fashion empire, which he helped the designer build after he left Christian Dior in 1961. Bergé and Laurent ran the iconic brand together for decades, even after they split up in the 1980s, and eventually sold the Yves Saint Laurent group for $655 million to the French pharmaceutical giant Elf Sanofi in 1993. According to New York magazine’s the Cut, the label changed the way generations of women dressed and is credited with creating the women’s tuxedo and the iconic Mondrian dress, and with introducing the trench coat and peacoat into high fashion.

The company was also at the forefront of social change. Philippe Villin, a Paris banker and gay-rights campaigner, told Anne-Sylvaine Chassany of the Financial Times that “by displaying his relationship with Yves Saint Laurent and thanks to their amazing talent in creation, arts, and business, Pierre Bergé has given a place to gays and lesbians in French society.”

As an unwavering activist and champion of gay rights, Bergé campaigned for same-sex marriage until former president François Hollande adopted the cause in 2013. He also founded Sidaction, a fundraising organization dedicated to AIDS research and treatment in 1994.

A major patron of the arts, Bergé founded the French Fashion Institute, financed acquisitions for the Louvre, and funded renovations at the National Gallery of London. He was made an officer in the Legion of Honor for his contributions to France, and was charged with running Paris’s opera houses. Under his direction, the Bastille Opera house’s artistic director Daniel Barenboim was fired, a move that made waves in the music world. Despite the controversial change in leadership, the opera’s attendance rose during Bergé’s brief tenure.

Bergé and Laurent were avid collectors and amassed an enormous private collection that included works by Brancusi, Léger, Braque, Matisse, and Picasso, as well as Art Deco furniture, old-master drawings, Renaissance bronzes, silver, and Roman antiquities. After Laurent died in 2008, Bergé shocked the art world when he decided to send seven hundred works to Christie’s to be auctioned off in a three-day sale, which raked in $484 million. Reporting on the affair for artforum.com, Lisa Liebmann and Brooks Adams wrote: “Produced by Christie’s in collaboration with Pierre Bergé & Associés (Bergé’s own smaller firm), this sale and its elaborate trappings (loosely reconstituted ‘rooms’ from YSL’s revered rue de Babylone apartment; dramatically lit, museum-style installations of works of art from both YSL’s somnambulist’s lair, and Bergé’s grander and more Apollonian two-floor apartment on the rue Bonaparte) were an almost-ecclesiastical ceremony for pilgrims from the realms of fashion, design, and art and a virtual affair of state for France, like some new kind of multimedia ‘La Marseillaise.’”

After Laurent’s passing, Bergé worked tirelessly to promote the designer’s legacy. He was instrumental in establishing two museums dedicated to the fashion icon, which are slated to open in Paris and Marrakesh, Morocco, next month. The museums will display five thousand haute couture garments, thousands of accessories, sketches, and drawings by the designer.

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