Pierre Bergé at the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris. Credit Guia Besana for The New York Times
“You want me to talk about fashion? O.K., fine. Let’s talk about fashion.”
Suddenly Pierre Bergé, the French 84-year-old arts patron, media baron, multimillionaire and companion and business partner of the designer Yves Saint Laurent, sat bolt upright in his chair. Back stiff, eyes blazing and hands clasped, Mr. Bergé leaned in with a snort of intent.
“First, I want to say this: The time of Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior and, of course, Yves — well, that time is over,” he proclaimed amid the Pop Art prints and glossy coffee table books that decorate his office — unchanged since the 1970s — in the gilded Avenue Marceau headquarters of the couple’s foundation here.
“Second, so too is the era of haute couture. Completely over, gone,” he continued. “This is why what we call luxe today is just ridiculous. To me, that whole industry now — all money and marketing — it is all something like a lie.”
Mr. Saint Laurent’s protector and promoter, both in life and in death, Mr. Bergé has long attracted admiration and loathing for his occasional scathing outbursts on the state of the contemporary luxury sector. We have met late on a gray fall afternoon a short time before a major sale of Islamic art owned by Mr. Bergé and Mr. Saint Laurent.
Scheduled by the French auction house Artcurial in the salons of the Palace Es Saadi in Marrakesh, Morocco, on Saturday, proceeds from the sale, titled “A Moroccan Passion,” will go to a foundation dedicated to the upkeep of the Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh. It is the cobalt blue Art Deco villa and botanical garden retreat that the couple bought in 1980, and where the designer’s ashes were scattered in 2008. The sale also will help finance the new Yves Saint Laurent museum, to open in 2017 in Marrakesh.
“These possessions are both beautiful and precious to me and have been for many, many years, but I don’t need to hold onto them any more,” said Mr. Bergé as he leafed through the sale catalog showcasing more than 180 pieces, including weapons, ceramics and embroideries, jewelry, furniture and paintings. “What is more important is to use them for the creation and funding of cultural centers that use Yves’s heritage and vision or true beauty to inspire new generations of talent. “New artists must be able to come and learn from these sites. I want our legacy to be one that centers around sharing and providing, creating forums of possibility — especially in Morocco, which has always been a place very close to my heart. It is my second home.”
Mr. Bergé and Mr. Saint Laurent first traveled to Marrakesh in 1966, social linchpins of a jet set that included Paul and Talitha Getty, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Loulou de la Falaise. As well as refuge, the medinas and rich flora and fauna of Marrakesh were inspirations for the Algerian-born Mr. Saint Laurent. The intense pressures of the fashion system he felt on becoming a boy wonder designer at the House of Dior at age 21 is one of the few things that Mr. Bergé believes has not changed in the five decades since they entered the industry.
“Fashion is so very fragile, you see. Really, what it is is a moment between the past and future, and it has to encapsulate the present — that has not changed and never will,” he said.
“But people’s perception of what luxury is has changed in such an extraordinary way. Their conception of what is fashion is so different now from the sort of fashion that Yves created — that I created with him. That no longer exists,” he continued. “A handbag that a woman takes with her all over the place — to a grocery store, through the airport — I cannot imagine how that can be considered luxury. That is not luxury.”