I first met the French businessman, man of letters, and famous art collector Pierre Bergé about 20 years ago at a dinner organized by Sotheby’s in Paris, where we found ourselves sitting next to one another.
We spent the whole evening discussing literature, and the next day – to my astonishment – I received a delivery of a dozen or so books by the American writer Edith Wharton, whose work I set about devouring thanks to Pierre Bergé.
That was what he was like. He noticed people, he liked them, and he took an interest in them.
I would often meet him at the Café de Flore in Saint Germain des Près, and the last time I saw him he told me, “It’s very good, your blog”.
He had an erudite way of speaking, like an early twentieth century french intellectual.
The long-time partner of Yves Saint Laurent died on 8 September at the age of 87. Everything has already been said about Pierre Bergé the businessman, Pierre Bergé the lover, Pierre Bergé and literature, Pierre Bergé and politics (his loyalty to François Mitterand), and Pierre Bergé the rebel.
I will remember how he was able to construct and truly mastermind the creation of the myth of Yves Saint Laurent. How he was also able to showcase their taste for art through the Christie’s auction in 2009 in Paris, which raised 373 million euros.
I will remember how in the packed Grand Palais before each auction began he would fill the space with Callas’ famous interpretation of Bellini, “Casta Diva”.
I have interviewed him several times at his office on Avenue Marceau, the very place where the Parisian museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent has just opened (another Yves Saint Laurent museum is also opening in Marrakesh on 16 October. The building, adjoining the Majorelle gardens, was designed by the French agency KO with interior design by Christophe Martin).
The American landscape gardener Madison Cox was Pierre Bergé’s last partner and husband. He is the new president of the Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent foundation. He outlines his vision for the future of the two museums:
Pierre Bergé and I had arranged to meet this September. Fate has decided otherwise. He would usually receive visitors in his office. Decorated by Jacques Grange, the room had a Andy Warhol painting hanging on the wall. He would sit you down on a couch and position himself slightly higher up, in an armchair facing you.
In 2013, while I was preparing for a Robert Mapplethorpe/ Auguste Rodin exhibition at the Musée Rodin, I asked him if he would provide a statement on the photographer. He told me, among other things, about how he first met Robert Mapplethorpe.
He also told me how Robert, desperately ill with AIDS, once asked him if he knew of a doctor who was qualified to treat him.
The photos taken by Mapplethorpe in Paris during the seventies are enlightening in one respect.
Robert Mapplethorpe is not fascinated by the master couturier, but rather by his rock, his project manager, Pierre Bergé.
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé would in fact go on to embody the archetype of the successful creative pairing.
Mapplethorpe would say that he too wanted to find his Bergé. He found him in the form of Sam Wagstaff.
In 1998, Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent funded the refurbishment of two rooms in the National Gallery in London, which still bear their names today.
I asked the institution for a statement on the French patrons. No one even bothered to respond. On their website, the “Yves Saint Laurent Room” is simply listed in the “entertaining” section as a venue for dinners of up to 100 people surrounded by French seventeenth-century paintings.
– Alain Tarica put together the exceptional collection of modern art belonging to Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent.
– Bob Wilson designed various sets for Pierre Bergé at the Bergé-Saint Laurent Foundation. He was one of his loyal contacts on the other side of the Atlantic.
– François de Ricqlès organized the auction of the couple’s collections at Christie’s in 2009, in what was then called “the sale of the century”.
– Nathalie Crinière designed the setting for the auction in 2009 at the Grand Palais. She is also the architect of the new Saint Laurent museum in Paris.
– Philippe Mugnier was very close to Yves Saint Laurent during the last years of his life.
– The jewellery designer Elie Top spent five years working alongside Yves Saint Laurent.
– Madison Cox has almost the last word:
And Maria Callas…