NEW YORK — Pierre Bergé clearly is as passionate in his views on politics, fashion, business and the fine arts as he is of cultural impresarios who have shaped the 20th century.
At an event Monday benefiting La Maison Française of New York, Bergé, who co-founded the couture house Yves Saint Laurent in 1961, staged an at-times emotional reading — in French — from his latest book, “Les Jours S’en Vont Je Demeure” [The Days Pass But I Remain], describing several well-known friends. The book includes a series of intimate literary portraits of artists, actors, writers, designers and public figures, including Jean Cocteau, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Diana Vreeland, Louis Aragon, Jean-Louis Barrault, Andy Warhol and the late French President François Mitterrand. It’s the fifth book by Bergé, a self-professed political confidante of Mitterrand’s, who also penned a book about the Socialist president in 2001 titled “Inventaire Mitterrand.”
Bergé currently heads The Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the history of the YSL fashion house. Dressed in a conservative brown shirt, maize yellow tie and dark green suit with a rosette of the Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur, he entered the Institute of Fine Arts here and scanned the number of guests, which totaled about 100.
At the cocktail party before his lecture, Bergé brusquely shared several thoughts with WWD, peppered with opinions of Franco-American relations and the Iraq war, his take on the relevance of the couture today, and a few sound bites on the current state of the house of Saint Laurent and its designer, Stefano Pilati, appointed in March by YSL parent Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.
When it comes to politics, Bergé appears to be on the same wavelength — and beyond — as French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who described the Iraqi conflict as a “black hole” in the Mideast, a comment that appeared in an interview May 13 with French newspaper Le Monde. “We must get out of this black hole that is sucking up the Middle East and, beyond that, the world,” said Barnier.
Since last year, France has been a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq and has ruled out sending any French troops to be part of the multinational force.
“It was ridiculous to declare a war without the permission from the United Nations,” said Bergé. “It’s a scandal. I want to be in Kofi Annan’s [secretary general of the U.N.] position to know what he would do. Because now the Muslim people hate us, Americans, the world.” Bergé served as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1993.
Turning to lighter matters — on which he remained just as outspoken — Bergé was asked if the haute couture had floundered because modern women didn’t have time to buy, collect or wear it.
“It is not a question of time. It is a question of an art de vivre,” he said, noting the quality and luxury of the couture was without question in earlier decades.
He bristled at the question of the patience threshold of a woman’s lifestyle today and her lack of desire for couture clothes.
“What do you mean?” Bergé answered testily. “Should a woman have patience for a lover?”
He added, though, that he believes there “probably is room” for ultraexpensive, handmade clothes.
As for Bergé’s thoughts on PPR’s decision to replace Tom Ford with Pilati as YSL’s designer, Bergé replied, “I’ll be very honest — I don’t know him very much. He was an assistant to Tom Ford. But as an assistant, you never know if he’s the best or not.
“Sure, I hate what has happened to Yves Saint Laurent [the fashion house] in the past,” Bergé added. “But maybe Monsieur Pilati was forced to do this. Voila! I’ll be waiting.”