Wild Love: Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé


All photographs by Mary Kathryn Paynter

Today’s story of defining and stylish love follows the romance of two men who completely reshaped the world of fashion with their working and romantic partnership that lasted 50 years: Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.

The two met in 1958 while attending the funeral for Christian Dior in Paris. Yves Saint Laurent had been the designer’s protégé, and Pierre Bergé was a popular and well-connected young figure in the Parisian art and fashion scene. After Dior’s death, Saint Laurent was chosen as his replacement, and his first collection was a smashing success, making Saint Laurent a star. The collection featured a softer take on Dior’s “New Look,” including the trapeze dress that would create an iconic silhouette for the generation. But shortly thereafter, the owner of the house of Dior, a right-wing supporter of the French-Algerian war, became angered by Saint Laurent’s resistance to serve in the military and fired him. Bergé came to his rescue, raised funds and the fashion house of Yves Saint Laurent was born.


Image above: Yves Saint Laurent, image via Westwood, licensed by Creative Commons


Image above: Pierre Bergé with a piece from the couple’s joint collection of art. Image via Wikimedia.

With Bergé at his side, Saint Laurent began to redefine and democratize fashion in new ways, year after year after year. Some of his groundbreaking designs included the beatnik look; Le Smoking, a tuxedo for women; the Mondrian dress; the safari look; thigh-high boots; tight pants; and the idea of reviving silhouettes from the earlier half of the twentieth century. Saint Laurent was also the first designer to really draw inspiration from cultures outside the Western world and to prominently use models of all skin colors and ethnicities. His Rive Gauche collection introduced the idea of prêt-à-porter, bringing high fashion out of haute couture and making it affordable for the masses.

Saint Laurent had many muses, among them Betty Catroux, Catherine Deneuve and Loulou de la Falaise, but his primary source of strength was always Pierre Bergé. Bergé was the one who took care of Saint Laurent, from structuring and building the empire his fashion house would become and buying vacation homes for Saint Laurent to enjoy, such as the beautiful Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, to even acquiring a pilot’s license so he could fly Saint Laurent to their home in Normandy any time he desired. Together they built a vast collection of beautiful paintings, sculptures and objets d’art housed in their Paris apartment on Rue de Babylone.

After the jump, I’ll tell you more about this couple and show you how I made an arrangement inspired by their elegant old-world style. — Mary Kathryn


Image above: “Le Smoking,” on display at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Image via Wikimedia.


Image above: Bergé and Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh, Morocco. Image via Chris Park, license by Creative Commons.

In 1976, Bergé and Saint Laurent ended their romantic relationship but remained close friends and business partners. At this point, Saint Laurent’s heavy drinking and drug use had taken such a toll on the relationship that, while Bergé had continuously stood by him thus far, he finally had to leave. Even then, Bergé only moved down the street, about a block away from the apartment they had shared. The two were truly inseparable, even in their end.

The next year, they launched the wildly successful fragrance, Opium, and made millions. This was one of the first times that a fashion brand translated to a mass-market product, and it changed the fashion world forever. But Saint Laurent withdrew more and more, cursing the fame that had become such a huge part of his life while still partaking in the jet-set world of Andy Warhol, the Rolling Stones and the Studio 54 crowd. He spent more and more time at his homes in Marrakech and Normandy. Eventually, he sought treatment for his substance abuse and remained sober for the rest of his life. Shortly before his death from brain cancer in 2008, Saint Laurent was joined with Bergé in a civil union ceremony, reuniting them in their relationship once and for all.


To celebrate the style of this amazing couple, I created an arrangement that has an old-world European feel with a hint of the elegant glamour that Saint Laurent and Bergé brought to the mainstream. I began with miniature Monstera leaves, which were found in their elegant Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Also inspired by Majorelle are the blue hyacinths and hydrangeas, whose intense hue was famously used throughout Saint Laurent and Bergé’s home there. To act as the main blooms, I used lovely and very pale pink garden roses, whose darker edges are a maroon shade that is echoed by the black dahlias in the back of the arrangement. Finally, as a nod to Le Smoking, the first tuxedo for women, I added some black and white anemones that give the arrangement a slightly graphic touch.

Susan

I look forward to these arrangements, and the wonderful, true stories, so much — thank you!

Heidi

An exquisite testament to enduring love and commitment (you had me tearing up a bit at the end). Thank you for the written piece and the accompanying gorgeous floral arrangement.

Nia Bassett

What a great article. The Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé story has always fascinated me, but I loved the twist of honoring the two with a flower arrangement. It was a really nice way to make it your own and was additionally sentimental and thought-provoking.

pammy

Love Saint Laurent (of course) but your comment “Saint Laurent was also the first designer to really draw inspiration from cultures outside the Western world” is so wrong – right off the top of my head I though of Paul Poiret and his Indian designs, then there was Fortuny with his Arabic influences, and so many others . . .

J Center, San Francisco

Thank you for the exquisite flowers and pictures. It was hard to select just one for my new screen saver. But, right-clicking my way through I finally made my choice. Merci!

Sara

I really love this series, and this might be my favorite arrangement yet! Not sure if you’re still taking suggestions, but I just saw the Man Ray | Lee Miller exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (one week left–highly recommended!), and I’d be curious to see how their relationship could be translated into flowers.

dene branda

pierre has been left to carrie on for yves and i believe he will make him proud

calvina vu

I love this story very much! thank you for sharing this wonderful love story.

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