Pierre Berge, Co-Founder of Yves Saint Laurent, Dies at 86

Pierre Berge - Getty-P 2016
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The businessman and arts patron was the longtime companion of the legendary French fashion designer.

Pierre Berge, the longtime companion of legendary French designer Yves Saint Laurent and co-founder of his eponymous fashion house, has died following a long illness.

His charitable foundations confirmed the news to the AFP in a statement. Berge was 86.

"It is with great sadness that the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris and the Jardin Majorelle Foundation in Marrakech announce the death of their president and founder Pierre Berge on Friday, Sept. 8, at 5:39 a.m. at his home in Saint-Remy-de-Provence," the statement said.

"It is with a deep emotion that I have learned of Pierre Bergé’s passing, he welcomed me with kindness since my first day at Saint Laurent," Anthony Vaccarello, who was appointed artistic director of Yves Saint Laurent in 2016, added in a statement. "His advice and his support have always guided me. I am infinitely sad that he will not be able to attend the opening of the two museums in Paris and Marrakech that he cared about so much. A great figure in French culture has left us."

After nearly 50 years together, Berge and Saint Laurent were joined in a civil union in 2008, just days before the fashion designer died of a brain tumor.

Berge had been a passionate advocate for equal marriage rights, as well as a pioneer for gay rights and the fight against AIDS. He co-founded the activist organization Sidaction and later donated large sums of his fortune to AIDS research.

In the film world, Berge produced Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats per Minute, which depicts the struggle of the ActUp AIDS activists and won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Berge was a towering figure in the fashion world, not only co-founding the Saint Laurent fashion house, but also the Institut Francais de la Mode. He was twice elected head of the French fashion body Chambre des Syndicats des Couturiers, first in 1974 and then in 1986.

Berge was widely credited for creating the legend around Saint Laurent as well as steering his business into lucrative licensing deals that created his vast fortune when the designer was suffering from addiction and depression. He led the house until 2002.

Onscreen, the pair’s love story and sometimes tumultuous relationship was depicted in competing biopics in 2014. Berge cooperated with Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent, starring Pierre Niney, in which he was portrayed by Cesar winner Guillaume Gallienne. In the tonally darker Bertrand Bonello Cannes entry Saint Laurent, he was portrayed by Jeremie Renier.

Berge and Saint Laurent's relationship was also immortalized in the 2010 documentary L'Amour Fou.

Berge was also a passionate collector and patron of the arts, and served as head of the Paris Opera from 1988-1993. He also spearheaded the renovation of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Under Berge's stewardship, two museums dedicated to the life and career of Saint Laurent are scheduled to open in October: the first in the designer’s former atelier on Avenue Marceau in Paris and the second in Marrakech, Morocco, where the pair had a second home.

Sept. 8, 7:52 a.m.: Updated with a statement from Yves Saint Laurent artistic director Anthony Vaccarello.