PARIS (AP) — Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most influential and enduring designers of the 20th century, empowered women by reinventing pants as a sleek, elegant staple of the female wardrobe.
Saint Laurent, 71, died Sunday night at his Paris home after a yearlong battle with brain cancer, said Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's close friend and business partner for four decades.
"Chanel gave women freedom," and Saint Laurent "gave them power," Berge said on France-Info radio. He called Saint Laurent a "true creator" who went beyond the aesthetic to make a social statement.
"In this sense, he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society," he said. "That's how he transformed society and that's how he transformed women."
The Gucci Group, which acquired the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house in 1999, said the designer's death "leaves a great emptiness but also a sublime inheritance."
"This genius of creation shattered the codes to create French elegance which today makes Paris a grand capital of fashion," Gucci said.
Berge, speaking Monday on the France-2 TV station, stressed Saint Laurent's "profound love" for women. He used fashion to "serve women" and not "use them," said Berge, who collaborated with the designer for four decades and was his former romantic partner.
In his own words, Saint Laurent once said he felt "fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves."
Saint Laurent widely was considered the last of a generation that included Christian Dior and Coco Chanel and made Paris the fashion capital of the world, with the Rive Gauche, or Left Bank, as its elegant headquarters.
The designer raised the stature of fashion while making it more accessible, it is widely agreed.
President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Saint Laurent for "putting his mark on a half-century of creation, in luxury as well as ready-to-wear." First lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who graced Saint Laurent's runway during her modeling career, said she had a "heavy heart" on learning of his death.
"He was an exceptional artist and human being," she said. "He made not only beauty, but also women's strength sublime."