Pierre Bergé, co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent, has died

The fashion industry icon was best known for his savvy business skills and long-term relationship with designer Yves Saint Laurent

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Pierre Bergé, co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent brand, has died.

The 86-year-old passed away at his home in the south of France after suffering from a long illness.

The French fashion tycoon, cultural patron and gay rights activist was well-known for his personal and business relationship with the designer Saint Laurent, whom he created the YSL brand with.

“Together they embodied the strength, passion and creativity that still remain at the core of the brand," a statement by YSL Beauté read.

“Patron of the arts and culture, Mr Pierre Bergé was closely linked with countless art and cultural initiatives and his philanthropic work will continue to resonate."

A creative partnership

In 1961, when the two men founded the fashion house, Bergé led the business, while Saint Laurent was the creative mind; his work shaped French style throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Bergé expanded the YSL couture brand into a profitable ready-to-wear business, a rarity in the fashion industry at the time, with boutiques in Paris, New York and other cities across the globe.

In 1971, when the couture business needed capital, Bergé sold the ready-to-wear division to the Squibb Corporation. After this, he focused on creating fashion shows to become more like rock concerts, with the clothes sold as loss-leaders, in order to attract customers to the brand’s licensed accessories and perfumes.

He later bought back the division two years later.

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Making history

In 1986, Bergé sold 25% of the YSL empire to Italian entrepreneur Carlo de Benedetti and used the money to buy cosmetics and fragrance company Charles of the Ritz, which owned a number of designer perfumes.

Then, in 1989, under Bergé’s guidance, the YSL group became the first French design house to be listed on the country's stock exchange, the Paris Bourse.

The announcement was a sensation, trading had to be halted in the first two days because there was an oversubscription by 27 times.

Despite the brand’s success on the stock exchange, in 1996 Bergé was caught cheating the system and was fined one million francs for insider trading, selling shares just before an announcement of plunging profits in 1992.

Yves and I loved one another: it is important to say that. And we set out to create an important new couture house and we had a magnificent success with it, but I am not a nostalgic person. This period with Yves Saint Laurent was marvellous but it is 50 years ago. — Pierre Bergé

Bergé’s sale of the company to pharmaceutical company Elf Sanofi only added to the scandal.

For Saint Laurent’s and Bergé’s 43.7% share, the pair were paid $286m, well above the the stock’s $118 market price right before the sale in 1993.

Elf Sanofi then sold YSL onto Gucci in 1999. The duo were still included and Bergé did not leave as President until 2002.

Bergé and Saint Laurent were joined in a civil union a few days before the designer died of a brain tumour in 2008 aged 71.

In March 2017, Bergé married the American garden designer Madison Cox, Vice-President of the Bergé-Saint Laurent foundation.

In a statement to AFP, Bergé said: “I have lived two big love stories before, with Bernard Buffet for ten years and with Yves Saint Laurent during 50 years.

“Gay marriage didn’t exist. Today, I am making my relationship with Madison Cox legal.”

Bergé had been due to inaugurate two museums dedicated to Saint Laurent in Paris and Marrakech this autumn.