French businessman and arts patron Pierre Bergé, who co-founded the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, has died at age 86 following a long illness, his foundation said on Friday. Bergé was the partner of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent, with whom he founded the label in 1961, helping him to become Christian Dior’s successor in France’s haute couture. He died on Friday at his home in Saint-Remy-de-Provence in southern France.
Although Bergé and Mr. Saint Laurent split up as a couple in the 1980s, Bergé went on to run the business until 2002. As noted by Town & Country this summer, “Personally and professionally, Bergé lingered in the shadows behind Saint Laurent for decades, transforming the unknown apprentice of Christian Dior into a worldwide sensation and standing by a tortured genius throughout his fatal descent into drug and alcohol addiction.”
Yes, Bergé was considered to be one of the most influential figures in French culture and was credited with being the business brains behind the Saint Laurent empire, which is now owned by luxury conglomerate Kering, which also counts Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, and Alexander McQueen as assets.
His influence stretched beyond fashion into wider cultural and political circles. “He also ranks among the first public faces of France’s decidedly modern progressive politics,” per T&C. Considered one of the most influential figures in France, Berge was a campaigner for gay rights and donated part of his fortune to AIDS research. In 1994, Berge, a longtime campaigner for gay rights, created Sidaction, a fund-raising organization dedicated to AIDS research and treatment. During his life and career, he was considered a confidant to former French president Francois Mitterrand, Jean Cocteau and Albert Camus.
“Bergé either currently sits, or at some point has sat, on the board of every important French cultural institution, and he has made—and even bankrolled—political careers.”
As for his last views on fashion? He told T&C, “Fashion today is houses that I do not know, where I have no action. It’s Zara, it’s H&M, it’s Uniqlo, and that’s how fashion is going to be today.”