Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent and Madison Cox: It's complicated

Madison Cox (above) is the presumptive legal heir to the estate of businessman Pierre Berge, who was the brain behind designer Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire.
Madison Cox (above) is the presumptive legal heir to the estate of businessman Pierre Berge, who was the brain behind designer Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES
Madison Cox is the presumptive legal heir to the estate of businessman Pierre Berge (above), who was the brain behind designer Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire.
Madison Cox is the presumptive legal heir to the estate of businessman Pierre Berge (above), who was the brain behind designer Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

NEW YORK • As two museums devoted to designer Yves Saint Laurent open this month in Paris and Marrakesh, there has been plenty of chatter in fashion and cafe society about the estate of Pierre Berge, the pugnacious business brain behind the original Yves Saint Laurent fashion empire.

Berge died of myopathy at 86 last month. In March, he had married American garden designer Madison Cox, 59, in a private civil ceremony near Deauville, France, making Cox his presumptive legal heir.

Whatever the fiscal strategy behind this union, Berge seemed determined to make one last symbolic point about their relationship, which lasted more than 35 years and had involved an operatic triangle with Saint Laurent, who died in 2008.

As weddings go, it was unusual in at least one respect: Cox has another partner of 11 years, Jaimal Odedra, a Bollywood costume designer and creator of home accessories.

Cox, the estate's executor, declined to be interviewed for this article. But many have been unable to resist making a quick mental inventory of Berge's holdings: the paintings, the furniture, the libraries and the cash; an auction of his and Saint Laurent's personal collection fetched hundreds of millions of dollars in 2009.

Those who pictured Cox shuttling luxuriously among the homes Berge kept in Paris, Normandy and St-Remy-de-Provence in France, and Marrakesh and Tangier in Morocco, will be disappointed, according to Mr Quito Fierro, chief administrative officer of the Jardin Majorelle Foundation. The foundation is a subsidiary of the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation that operates, along with the museum in Marrakesh, the public Majorelle Garden and a museum of Berber culture there.

The vacation house Berge built in Normandy was not his, Mr Fierro said. He simply retained the right to use the house after selling it and Chateau Gabriel, on the same grounds, following Saint Laurent's death.

And the other residences - including Villa Mabrouka in Tangier, which has been on and off the market in recent years with an asking price of about US$10 million (S$13.7 million) - will be sold to benefit the umbrella foundation, whose presidency has passed from Berge to Cox, Mr Fierro said.

No one should be worried about Cox's housing, however. Villa Oasis, the lavish Orientalist fantasy where Berge lived in Marrakesh, is part of the Majorelle Foundation, but is Cox's in all but name, a perk that comes with the guardianship of Saint Laurent's artistic legacy.

Berge had more than one "L'Amour Fou" (crazy love), the name he gave the 2010 documentary about him and Saint Laurent. In published letters he wrote to Saint Laurent after the designer died, he made Cox's place in the hierarchy of his heart clear.

"With you, Madison remains the most important relationship of my life." He arrived "when alcohol and drugs had taken possession of you".

"Thanks to Madison, probably, I weathered the storm," Berge continued. "He gave me what I needed: his youth, culture, courage, integrity, love."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent and Madison Cox: It's complicated'. Print Edition | Subscribe