TRUE PRINCE OF CULTURE
Pierre Bergé’s philanthropy and the arts was matched by his unparalleled f lair for collecting
One might say Pierre Bergé was preordained for the extraordinary. Upon arrival in Paris from his hometown of La Rochelle in 1948, the 18-year-old was walking along the Champs Élysées when a man suddenly fell out of a window right in front of him. At the time, he had no idea that the man was Jacques Prévert, author of Paroles, the renowned 1945 book of poems. Six decades later, Bergé, whose innumerable belt notches included fashion oligarch, art patron, erudite collector, political activist and one-time president of the Paris Opera, revealed his somewhat grandiose sense of destiny: “I have always considered it an act of fate that on my very first day in Paris, a poet should fall on my head.” Fate or not, the story of Bergé, who died last September at the age of 86, is marked with literary references. (Legend has it that he once shared a jail cell with philosopher Albert Camus after the two were arrested during a political demonstration.) However, it was his love story with Yves Saint Laurent, which began in 1958, that would largely define his life. If ever there were a relationship hinged on the principles of yin and yang, this was it: co-founding the House of Yves Saint Laurent in 1961, the introverted designer’s now-legendary ‘artistic’ temperament was allayed by Bergé’s cool head for business, not to mention his uncanny ability to align himself, and the fashion house, with those who mattered. ››
‹‹ In 1966, Bergé convinced Saint Laurent to do ready-to-wear, promoting it, as well as perfume and accessories, on the back of dazzling, rockstar runway shows. It was the first in a series of gamechanging and often controversial moves that transformed the French fashion industry into an international megabusiness. It also lined the Saint Laurent-Bergé purse in a serious way. While the couple separated romantically in the late 1970s, they continued to live together and flourish as business partners. They also carried on collecting: inspired by the Jean-Michel Frank-designed rooms belonging to their friends Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles, the couple began buying important Art Deco furniture in the 1960s — very much démodé at the time. Exceptional pieces by Eileen Gray and Jean Dunand were soon kept company by old and modern masters — think Goya and Gainsborough alongside Léger, de Chirico and Gris — as the pair nurtured what would become known as the greatest collection in living memory. Then, following the couturier’s death in 2008, Bergé made international headlines when he put the bulk of their treasures up for sale with Christie’s in Paris; it netted €374 million, the most expensive private collection ever sold at auction. Before the collection was dispersed, the couple’s homes in Paris, Normandy, Tangier and Marrakech were photographed for the book The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé, providing a glimpse into the intertwined souls of two of the greatest collectors of all time. The Paris duplex at 55 Rue de Babylone was the most obviously chic, while the Château Gabriel near Deauville, where each room was named after characters from Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, was the most romantic. Sitting between the two was another Paris duplex on Rue Bonaparte — in more recent times, Bergé enlisted Milan design firm Studio Peregalli, who describe the enfilade of rooms as feeling “Chekhovian”. Never the sentimentalist, Bergé reflected: “One day, no doubt, this will all vanish just as quickly as it arrived. In the meantime, it’s mine.” What won’t vanish is the legacy of this titan of the arts with the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent and the just-opened Paris and Marrakech museums dedicated to his soulmate.
“One day, no doubt, this will all vanish just as quickly as it arrived. In the meantime, it’s mine”
clockwise from top: the dining room at Château Gabriel, the Normandy manor Bergé shared with Saint Laurent and designed by Jacques Grange, features French Neo-Gothic chairs and a 19th-century chandelier. The drawing room of the Rue de Babylone duplex;...