PARIS (AFP) — With a military salute, crowds thronging the streets and the cream of global couture in attendance, France's "prince of fashion", Yves Saint Laurent, was given a grand send-off at his funeral Thursday.
A bevy of celebrities including Catherine Deneuve, France's ex-supermodel first lady Carla Bruni, and Farah Diba, widow of the last Shah of Iran, were among the 800 people at the funeral which ended with tears and a military salute.
"These are my last words to you Yves," said his longtime lover and business partner Pierre Berge as pallbearers prepared to hoist the coffin into the street, where more than 1,000 mourners had thronged to offer a final farewell.
"You cannot hear me, you cannot reply," said Berge, who founded the iconic YSL house in 1961 with his then 25-year-old partner.
"With Coco Chanel, you were the greatest designer of the 20th century, she in the first half, you in the second. On your marble plaque, I have had them engrave, above your name, the words 'French couturier'."
Saint Laurent, who dominated international couture from the swinging 1960s until his 2002 retirement, died Sunday in his Paris home of a brain tumour at the age of 71.
For much of the past year, after breaking both shoulders in a fall, he had been unable to move, speak or even eat alone.
Giant bouquets of white flowers, lilies, roses and gardenias, filled the church, where a string ensemble played Vivaldi and Mozart, and a recording of Maria Callas rendering Bellini recalled Saint Laurent's love of music.
Former French lady Bernadette Chirac and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe were among mourners joining Berge at a moving 90-minute funeral mass, watched on giant screens outside the church by a crowd that jammed streets by the Louvre museum.
"I came to pay homage to Saint Laurent," said one woman. "He knew how to dress women, not disguise them," said another.
There was thunderous applause from onlookers outside the Saint-Roch church when the designer's coffin was carried in and total silence during the service.
Most of the women arriving for the funeral mass, including Bruni, attending with husband President Nicolas Sarkozy, were dressed in trouser suits, a tribute to Saint Laurent's reputation as the designer who put women in pants.
Saint Laurent's more than 90-year-old mother sat in the front row, holding a walking-stick.
The reclusive and mentally frail fashion giant is hailed for his role in revolutionising women's wardrobes with a ground-breaking androgynous style that mirrored women's push in the 1960s and 1970s for a stronger social voice.
"You belonged to this magnificent and tragic family of highly-strung people who are the salt of the earth," Berge said in his funeral speech. "All that is best comes to us from the highly strung."
In earlier statements this week, Berge said YSL turned fashion on its head, "making it socially relevant rather than merely aesthetic. With Saint Laurent, women ceased being clothes-horses or the objects of designer fantasies."
Notable at the funeral were the biggest names in fashion -- Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Valentino, Hubert de Givenchy, Sonia and Nathalie Rykiel, Kenzo Takada, Alber Elbaz and Ines de la Fressange.
Also attending was the chairman of the world's leading luxury group LVMH, Bernard Arnault, along with the Christian Dior's manager, Sidney Toledano.
Intimate friend Deneuve recited a Walt Whitman poem in homage to the man who created her outfits for the cult 1967 sexual liberation movie by Luis Bunuel "Belle De Jour," about a frigid housewife who spends afternoons as a prostitute.
Saint Laurent, who was born August 1, 1936 in the Algerian town of Oran in the pre-independence era, will be cremated and his ashes flown to a botanical garden in Marrakech, Morocco, bordering a home bought there by Berge and YSL.
The couturier "spent much of his life in Morocco. He will stay there in a country that influenced and marked him greatly," said Berge. "He will end up in the Maghreb where he was born."
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