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Yves Saint Laurent co-founder Pierre Bergé has passed away

The businessman was 86, and died in his sleep following a long illness

“I have always considered our being photographed together unawares as an omen. If either of us had been told what our lives were to become, we would not have believed it.”

So wrote Pierre Bergé, who has died at the age of 86, of being photographed with Yves Saint Laurent standing at the coffin of Christian Dior. It was 1957, and the two men were strangers then – together, they would go on to create one of the most influential fashion houses to have existed, leaving behind an incredible legacy.

Saint Laurent, who had succeeded Dior on his death, was fired from the company in 1960 after he was sent for military service. Bergé had by then become his romantic partner, and together they created their own company, showing first in January 1962. With Bergé in charge of the business, Yves Saint Laurent revolutionised fashion in the second half of the twentieth century – democratising the industry by introducing ready-to-wear line YSL Rive Gauche in 1967, reinventing iconic styles such as Le Smoking, Safari dress and the Mondrian dress, and forming lasting partnerships with muses like Catherine Deneuve.

Although the company was sold in 1992 (it is now part of Kering), Bergé had remained involved and was the president of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, established in 2002 after YSL’s retirement. He spoke highly of Hedi Slimane, but was less complimentary about other designers chosen to lead the house – “I would like to say precisely that I recognise a lot of talent from Tom Ford - but it is for marketing,” he told Suzy Menkes in 2015. “He was incapable of succeeding Yves Saint Laurent. Therefore it was, as you know, a flop. As for (Stefano) Pilati, it is better not to talk about it because it was nothing at all.”

While Bergé and Saint Laurent split in 1976, they maintained a close relationship (“the divorce was inevitable but the love never stopped,” he said in Saint Laurent’s eulogy) and wed in a civil union shortly before the designer’s death in 2008. Bergé later remarried, and is succeeded by his widow, landscape designer Madison Cox.

As a philanthropist, Bergé championed gay rights, donating a portion of the $484 million raised from selling the art collected by himself and Saint Laurent to AIDS research. The rest of the money has funded two new museums due to open shortly – the Yves Saint Laurent Museum Paris and the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech.