French fashion tycoon was a tireless campaigner for gay rights and donated much of his fortune to Aids research
Pierre Berg, the French fashion tycoon, philanthropist and art collector who was the driving force behind the creation of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, has died at the age of 86 following a long illness.
Berg was one of the most influential business figures on the French cultural scene, known for his very public longterm personal and business relationship with the designer Saint Laurent, which captured the public imagination and inspired a series books and films.
From 1961, when the two men founded the fashion house, the tough Berg led the business side, while the shy Saint Laurent created the business designs that would shape French style throughout the 60s and 70s.
Berg was a passionate bibliophile and art collector, amassing two of the worlds top private art and rare books collections with Saint Laurent. He also campaigned for gay rights and donated a large part of his fortune to Aids research. In 2010 he was part of a group of business figures who took over the struggling daily French newspaper Le Monde, and was chairman of the supervisory board at the newspaper.
The former Socialist French culture minister, Jack Lang, led tributes on Friday calling Berg a true prince of the arts and culture.
Always politically engaged, Berg was an important backer and confidant of the late French Socialist president Francois Mitterrand and later backed other Socialist presidential candidates including Franois Hollande. In January this year, he threw his weight behind the centrist newcomer, Emmanuel Macron, who went on to win the presidency in May. Although backing Macron wholeheartedly, Berg at the same time lamented the decline of the Socialist party.
A whole part of our collective citizen and artistic memory dies with Pierre Berg, Macron said in a statement, praising Bergs genius for creating beauty and excellence wherever he could.
Hollande described Berg as an exceptional man of conviction who defended the idea of equal rights for all.
The leftwing MP Jean-Luc Mlenchon praised Bergs contributions to the fight against racism, to Aids research and to supporting the arts, lauding him as someone who did not devote his life to his money.
Berg was born on the le dOlron in the west of France, the son of a tax official and teacher. As a rebellious teenager in La Rochelle, he left school early intent on seeking his fortune in the cultural world of the capital. His story was an extraordinary saga of a self-made man who, from a modest start, ended up holding one of the worlds most valuable art and books collections. Shortly after arriving in Paris he was walking on the Champs lyses when the poet Jacques Prvert fell from a window and nearly landed on top of him.
He fell. Comme a! Berg told the Observer in 2009. They took him to the hospital. I didnt know it was Jacques Prvert. I learnt later from the newspaper.
Berg took this strange and surreal fall as a sign that the city was his natural place to be. He began working in antique books, scouring bookstalls along the Seine for treasures, built up a network of influential friends and worked in art promotion.
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