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L'AMOUR FOU: Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé (2010)

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peromaneste spunea...

Mr. Bergé, is it true that you met Yves Saint Laurent for the first time at Christian Dior’s funeral in 1957?

Well, you can see us both in a picture that shows the mourning guests, but in fact I met him on February 3rd, 1958 during a dinner organized by Marie-Louise Bousquet. I had come to congratulate him a few days after his first collection at Dior was presented. We were living together six months later.

What was it about that encounter that stuck with you?

I didn’t know very much about fashion at that time. I was a very close friend of Christian’s and of some other haute couture masters like Balenciaga, but for me fashion was not an art. In my eyes, it was just something to make money. But the morning of his first show at Dior I understood that something happened with me. I realized that I was stupid. I loved what I saw and I just knew that Yves Saint Laurent would be a great fashion designer.

After Yves Saint Laurent got fired from Dior for refusing military service in Algeria, you founded his eponymous fashion label with him and acted as the CEO for over 40 years, a very long and successful partnership.

We had a Berlin Wall between us. I never interfered with his creative design for commercial reasons and he never came to me to talk about money. Ever.

Money wasn’t important to Yves Saint Laurent?

No. Because he trusted me and also of course because he knew that he had money. But he never knew how much he had. Never. Money for him was something strange.

Perhaps that’s the reason you ended up with such an amazing art collection. Were you able to simply buy anything that you liked without second–guessing?

Well, it was not so easy, not in the very beginning. When we started our business we didn’t have money, but later on money was not important enough for us to not spend it on art. We were very proud of the collection that we created.

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You sold it in the biggest private auction ever for €373,500,000 after he died. Why did you sell it if it was so important for you both?

When I decided to sell the collection after Yves died, it was not only a nostalgic decision, but also a money decision. But the money was not for me. As you might know, we have a foundation that needs money and a big part of that sale went to the foundation. I am involved in many, many endeavors, like fighting against AIDS, supporting theaters, and many other things. I decided to sell the collection mainly for that reason – to have money for those purposes.

Where you with him the moment he died?

Of course. I had decided to go to Montreal for a weekend to visit an exhibition when I got a call from the doctor. He said that it was a question of maybe one or two weeks. Before and after that, I sat by his side.

He had brain cancer. Did Yves Saint Laurent know that his death was approaching?

Not at all. He never knew. The doctor told me that there was nothing more to do and we mutually decided that it would be better for him to not know. You know, I have the belief that Yves would not have been strong enough to accept that.

How did you feel when he wasn’t there anymore?

It is so difficult and almost impossible to describe. But you might have also experienced that in your life: it is very different if someone passes away suddenly, by an accident or a stroke or after a long illness. I was kind of expecting it and that helped me to be prepared for this big loss.

Are you sad that you don’t work in fashion anymore? Do you miss the business aspect since you retired together with Yves Saint Laurent?

No. Probably because the fashion industry was not exactly the same in the past. I am not nostalgic – I hate nostalgia – but I am happy that I don’t work in the fashion business today. I am sorry to tell you, but it is not very easy to work with fashion magazines now.

Why is that?

With Saint Laurent, we never talked money, we never traded a front cover against advertising, we never talked about that. Never. Let me tell you something: we opened the Couture House in ’62 and in 1963 we were already on the front covers with full pages inside. Do you think that is possible today? Even with a new Saint Laurent?

Would Yves Saint Laurent hate the fashion industry of today?

Of course! Yves retired at the right time and he died at the right time. I am sorry to tell you that, but it is very difficult for me to understand what has happened to the fashion business. It is all a question of money and marketing. We never talk about talent – it’s not the point. We only talk about sales. Yves Saint Laurent would have hated that.

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What would you say was his biggest achievement in fashion? Especially in the ’60s, Yves Saint Laurent and the whole company around him really pushed into a new direction.

Saint Laurent is, along with Chanel, the most important fashion designer of the 20th century. It was a different time of designers, a time of great masterminds. I’ve seen wonderful dresses by Balenciaga and Christian Dior – but the difference between those fashion designers and Chanel and Saint Laurent is that they stayed on the aesthetic field. Saint Laurent and Chanel went to the social field – they changed the lives of women around the world.

Because of what exactly?

Chanel gave liberty to the women; I think Saint Laurent gave them power. We can see that today, everyday.

Everyone considered him a genius and he became more and more intense in his way of working and living. Why do you think he became addicted to drugs and alcohol in the mid-seventies?

It is very difficult to answer what lead to this addiction. But I must admit that Yves created wonderful collections while using drugs and alcohol. That made it very difficult to stop.

Was he always creating?

Always. He didn’t really pay attention to anything else – or anybody else. Marcel Proust explained that very well: he said that if you are a genius you are busy with yourself – and it is true. Voilà.

Yves Saint Laurent was often described as a depressed person and even in his retirement speech he said, “I’ve gone through much anguish, many hells; I’ve known fear and tremendous solitude; the deceitful friends that tranquillizers and narcotics turn out to be; the prison that depression can be and that of mental health clinics.” But wasn’t Yves Saint Laurent someone who achieved everything? What could it have been that made him so sad?

I think he was born with depression. And later he suffered of fame because he realized that it didn’t bring him anything.

Would you call Yves Saint Laurent – that genius admired by so many millions – a tragic person in the end?

Saint Laurent was an artist. And an artist always plays with his internal reality. You have to know the rules of the game – and I was able to deal with it very well. We had a lot of happy moments.

When was he the happiest?

He could be hilarious among friends. But I think he was the happiest when he finished a collection and took the applause and the standing ovations. After that his mission was finished. It was like a firework – and then it started all over again.

Anonim spunea...

“ALLONS-Y. Allons-y!” (“Let’s go. Let’s go!”) Pierre Bergé commands impatiently, with unsmiling lips and a gruff voice. We are in the opening minutes of an interview in the Avenue Marceau headquarters of the foundation he created with his longtime lover and business partner, the designer Yves Saint Laurent.

It looks as though it’s going to be a short afternoon.

But then, suddenly, Mr. Bergé becomes expansive, as if time holds no constraint, and the need to capture memory and explain himself is the only imperative. And, there, in a few seconds’ time, comes both a glimpse of the public Bergé — the man once so intensely protective and so domineering that he seemed more gatekeeper than lover — and a hint of what his life must have been like behind closed doors for all those years.

No loss is easy, of course, but the death of Saint Laurent from cancer in 2008 and the grief that followed have penetrated Mr. Bergé deeply. So deeply that he can no longer sustain the protective, controlling, fear-inducing facade that drove him for decades. In fits and starts, a human dimension has begun to seep out. It comes and goes, so quickly and without warning that it can leave an interlocutor confused and unsettled.

Mr. Bergé, who is now 80, provides the narrative arc for “L’Amour Fou” — literally “Crazy Love” — a French documentary about the relationship between the two men, which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring and opens in the United States on Friday. His decision to talk about the film — and about himself — was an effort to market it for an American audience, but also, it seems, to set the record of his own life straight.

Sitting across from a Warhol portrait of a pensive Saint Laurent, Mr. Bergé, perfectly turned out in a charcoal gray wool suit a bit too heavy for the sunny day, exhibited his usual buttoned-up sort of personality. As he spoke, though, Mr. Bergé began to soften, expanding far beyond where the film goes on the painful consequences of Saint Laurent’s struggle with depression.

“He was a manic-depressive, absolutely,” Mr. Bergé said. “He was manic-depressive, exactly what the word means, manic and depressive. This means periods when he did every sort of thing crazy with happiness, and then the next day, it was blackness. It was depression that drove him towards alcoholism, and afterwards a little towards drugs. Voilà.”

He described his personal feelings of helplessness as he tried to keep Saint Laurent stable, focused and creative. Switching back and forth from French to English, mixing both languages in the same sentence, he said: “When you have a relationship with an alcoholic, a drug user, you are forced to have very difficult relations. What can we do? Nothing. Just to accept the fact. To try to help, yes, which I did, with not many successes. But I did it.”

He continued: “Even with a wonderful collection, he was a very, very unhappy, unhappy guy. More than that. More than unhappy. Really. I just tried to help him from time to time. I never complained. Never. It’s an illness, nothing else. It is just an illness.”

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The film centers on the 2009 Christie’s mega-auction of more than 700 art objects that Mr. Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, who first met in Paris in 1958, amassed during their years as a couple. In the interview, Mr. Bergé confessed that he never wanted to do the sale.

He dreamed instead, he said, of using the collection to create a museum, one blending their Old Master drawings, Renaissance bronzes, paintings, sculptures, furniture and memorabilia with the finest examples of Saint Laurent fashion designs. “It would have been a museum that married art with fashion,” Mr. Bergé said. “I made money with fashion. And I wanted to show that fashion was the origin of the money for the art. I wanted to do it.” But doing so, he lamented, would have been “too complicated and too expensive.”

The French tend to keep their art collections to themselves and pass them on to their heirs, or at least to museums. So Mr. Bergé’s decision was considered rather un-French. The French press called the three-day orgy of one-upmanship “the sale of the century.” It netted an astounding $484 million. Mr. Bergé declined to disclose what percentage he received. In the end, Mr. Bergé said of the auction: “It was very violent. An armchair for 80, 90 million. Very violent. It was an exorcism.”

The movie captures the brutality of the sale, from the cataloging and crating of the objects in the couple’s sumptuous Rue de Babylone apartment to the pounding of the auctioneer’s hammer. Sentimentality does not seem to come naturally to Mr. Bergé, especially in front of the camera. “I don’t believe in the soul, neither in my own, nor in that of these objects,” he says.

Asked about that scene in the interview, he went further, declaring: “The more I think about it, I believe in nothing. Nothing.”

He professed to like the film, was directed by Pierre Thoretton, who was once married to the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, a Saint Laurent muse who was one of the designer’s closest friends and most loyal customers. But he suggested that the relationship between him and Saint Laurent was misunderstood.

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“Today, Yves Saint Laurent and I, because of this film, because of the auction, and just in general, we are known for having been a gay couple who collected art. It’s not true.”

A more authentic version of their relationship, he said, is found in “Letters to Yves,” a slim book of Mr. Bergé’s reminiscences published after Saint Laurent’s death, in which he wrote: “It is sexuality and not art that has been our driving force.”

Three years after his tearful eulogy at Saint Laurent’s funeral, which was shown in the film, Mr. Bergé may be edging back toward his true persona. He made clear that he considers himself a man of letters who read Dickens and Tolstoy as a youngster and bought first editions as a young man at bargain prices from booksellers along the Seine. A passionate lover and patron of the opera,who had been a close friend of President François Mitterrand, who named him president of the Paris National Opera in the 1990s, Mr. Bergé said he became a businessman only because that was the role Saint Laurent needed him to play.

He boasted about the museum of Berber art he built in Marrakesh, where he has kept the home the couple bought together. He said that last year, 600,000 people visited the magnificent botanical garden restored nearby.

He said he owns 5,000 Yves Saint Laurent outfits and 100,000 to 150,000 of his designs. He talked about exhibits of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion designs that he has organized, including Paris, Denver, Madrid and San Francisco.

He expressed pride in his rare-book collection, which includes two first editions of Montaigne’s essays. “Today, I am a book collector, and I have an important collection,” he said. But then he wavered, announcing plans to sell it off.

Asked again about the 2009 auction, he wavered once more. At first, he insisted that he had made the right choice in sending the collection to what he called the “fire” of the auction house.

Asked why that was, he replied: “I don’t know. Maybe not. When something is too difficult, you have to give up. So that becomes the good choice. No regrets. Never.”

As for the objects he misses from time to time, he said: “All and none. All and none.”