TRUE PRINCE OF CUL­TURE

Pierre Bergé’s phi­lan­thropy and the arts was matched by his un­par­al­leled f lair for col­lect­ing

VOGUE Living Australia - - Contents - BY JA­SON MOWEN

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;...

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