Pierre Bergé, the co-founder of French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, patron of the arts and passionate AIDS campaigner, has died at the age of 86. Bergé passed away this morning at his home in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence after a long illness.

Bergé was the longtime companion of Yves Saint Laurent, and the financial figurehead behind the maison he co-founded with the renowned fashion designer in 1961. The creation of the ‘Rive Gauche’ label in 1966 heralded the revolutionary concept of ready-to-wear – Yves Saint Laurent became renowned for democratising the stiff and elitist world of haute couture.

From Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian’ dress to the androgynous ‘Le Smoking’ tuxedo suit, the brand’s designs were a pioneering force behind the Parisian fashion landscape during the sixties and seventies. It was a business that continually expanded into new territories, including fragrance and Paloma Picasso-designed accessories, and catered to the sartorial needs of figures including Marie-Hélène de Rothschild and Loulou de la Falaise. This was all achieved under the guidance of business-minded Bergé, who directed the fashion house until 2002.

Not just a force in the French fashion industry, Bergé was a champion of the arts. ‘A great figure in French culture has left us,’ said Anthony Vaccarello, the current creative director of the house, in a press release delivered by the brand earlier today. In 1973, Bergé was elected president of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. In 1986, he created the Institut Français de la Mode, an association that provides education to the fashion and textile sector.

The Yves Saint Laurent Museum under construction in Marrakech

Among a host of pursuits and positions, he also served as director of the Opéra National de Paris from 1988-1994, and presided over the Comité Cocteau. Bergé was also the founding president of Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, which works to preserve Saint Laurent’s body of work and raise cultural awareness of the designer.

Bergé, born in 1930, moved to Paris in 1948, and became a book dealer in rare first-editions. A voracious art collector and bibliophile, his personal library contained over 1600 valuable editions. In 2009, a year after Saint Laurent’s death, a Christie’s sale auctioned the duo’s art collection – which ranged from Renaissance vases to works by Paul Klee, at an estimated total figure of €375 million. The proceeds of the auction were donated to AIDS research, a cause that Bergé campaigned for throughout his life.

Morocco played a central figure in the lives of Saint Laurent and Bergé, who first visited the country in 1966. In 1980, the duo acquired the Jardin Marjorelle in Marrakech, once a creative retreat which housed Andy Warhol, Betty Catroux and a host of their bohemian friends. It is now one of the most visited sites in the country, with its idiosyncratic deep blue doors and landscaped gardens welcoming over 800,000 vistors a year.

Bergé was due to open two museums dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and Marrakech this autumn. We were fortunate enough to photograph the Moroccan site for our recent September Style Special issue. ‘It feels perfectly natural, 50 years later, to build a museum dedicated to Saint Laurent’s oeuvre, which was so inspired by this country,’ Bergé, who visited the site once a month, told us. The site is now a symbol of not only the designer’s legacy, but of the companion that supported not only him, but the French arts scene and campaigned tirelessly for social equality.

RELATED TOPICS: IN MEMORIAM