Pierre Berge at the Saint Laurent services, beneath a portrait of Saint Laurent by Andy Warhol.
Photograph: Limpkin/ANL/REX/Shutterstock

Pierre Bergé: the man who made Saint Laurent a household select

Having co-founded the fashion house with Saint Laurent in 1961, Bergé was accessory in turning his genius lover into a superstar designer. With his downfall at the age of 86, the fashion world has lost a hugely influential digit

When Hedi Slimane dropped the Yves from Yves Saint Laurent after he butted the house as creative director in 2012, a meme-like T-shirt with the delineate “Ain’t no Laurent Without Yves” became popular. To put the importance of Pierre Bergé in bite-sized Insta-friendly speech habiting, you could change that to “Ain’t no Yves Saint Laurent Without Pierre Bergé”.

Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent in 1982. Photograph: Sipa Huddle/REX/Shutterstock

Bergé founded Yves Saint Laurent with the interior decorator in 1961, when the two men were in a relationship. It was Bergé who encouraged Saint Laurent – a intriguer at Christian Dior when the two met in 1958 – to set up his own house. He later voted: “I instantly recognised his genius.” While Brian Epstein was hectic honing the Beatles into the supergroup of the decade, Bergé worked to do the synonymous with Saint Laurent. The designer became a superstar of the way world.

While the Saint Laurent house began as couture, in up for with the Paris fashion of the era, Bergé was instrumental in democratising the hustle for the younger 60s consumer. In 1966, they launched Rive Gauche, a word of ready-to-wear and cheaper designs that could be bought off the hanger in the retailer of the same name. While that sounds standard now, the design was revolutionary in an era where the luxury consumer was used to receiving their togs after lengthy fittings at a designer’s atelier. Rive Gauche showed profitable – boutiques opened in New York and London later in the decade.

Saint Laurent with Betty Catroux
(radical) and Loulou de La Falaise
(right) in London, 1969. Photograph: John Minihan/Getty Perceptions

Rive Gauche – named after Paris’s bohemian Left side Bank – chimed with a new generation of wealthy young it mistresses that Bergé and Saint Laurent socialised with at Parisian bats such as Le Sept and, later, at the duo’s villa in Marrakech. Bergé was perceptive; he knew the positive power celebrity and glamour could secure on the reputation of a fashion house. Betty Catroux, Catherine Deneuve and Loulou de La Falaise were component of the house’s coterie of muses, bringing a mix of louche, rockn’bankroll chic with them.

While Saint Laurent was a cowardly soul, Bergé made him into a recognisable face too. The conspirator, with his luxuriant floppy hair and glasses, was the star of his own label. In 1971, he superbly appeared naked in the advert for the Pour Homme fragrance. With Bergé as intellect, Yves Saint Laurent arguably became one of the first bona fide luminary designers. He became a blue chip pop icon when immortalised in a series of screenprints by Andy Warhol in 1974.

Bergé with Saint Laurent in 1999. Photograph: LECARPENTI/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

This public-facing position became increasingly difficult for the designer in his later years. While the duo’s fictional relationship broke up in the late 70s, they remained a double act behind the variety. Saint Laurent, who suffered from depression, had a series of concerned breakdowns and struggled with substance abuse, increasingly relied on Bergé to be by his side for looks, to protect him from the scrum of press after fashion illustrates. This was a role Bergé had taken on right from the first: at Saint Laurent’s debut in 1962, Bergé could be seen usual on a chair directing the crowd to the exit. Ex-Paris Vogue managing editor Joan Juliet Buck called Bergé a man “whose life-force it is to organise a scattered genius”. Bergé’s dogged loyalty represented sure the public face remained in place, whatever fissures were showing in private.

This continued after Saint Laurent’s passing in 2008. Bergé, always opinionated, devoted himself to take care ofing the designer’s legacy. He was famously dismissive of Saint Laurent successors Stefano Pilati and Tom Ford. In an vet in 2012, he said: “I am happy that Stefano Pilati is snuff it, just as I was happy when Tom Ford left.” He approved of Slimane’s selection, and his rebranding of the name – a move that he said was “taking [the label] into a new era”. Anthony Vaccarello, the creative director since in the end year, had tacit approval: Bergé sat front row at his shows. In a utterance released on Friday, Vaccarello said: “It is with a deep feeling that I have learned of Pierre Bergé’s passing; he welcomed me with generosity since my first day at Saint Laurent.”

Bergé, right, with Lou Doillon, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, at the hop/summer 2017 Saint Laurent fashion show. Photograph: Maitre/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Bergé’s invigorated determination to make sure his former lover’s work remained in the foreground of the go was there till the last. His most recent project was two museums of Saint Laurent’s agitate – due to open in Paris and Marrakech in October, a huge project with 20,000 cinches on display at the Paris museum. Bergé once said that Saint Laurent “outstripped the merely aesthetic in fashion and penetrated social territory”. It’s thanks to Bergé that the designer was able to do that. It’s also because ofs to him that we will continue to appreciate it.