Paris has bid farewell to Brigitte Burke, as a score of designers, luxury CEOs, her widower Michael Burke and their five sons gathered in the Musée de l’Orangerie for a series of emotional tributes on Thursday night.
Almost a dozen people from Bernard Arnault to Pharrell Williams paid homage to Brigitte Burke, a famously friendly face in the often competitive world of fashion and luxury.
The much-loved wife of Michael Burke, the long-time LVMH executive, Brigitte Burke, passed away recently in Florida after bravely and gracefully battling cancer for several years.
“She was a radiant personality, extremely sympathique, terribly nice, and with whom Michael made an extraordinary couple,” said Bernard Arnault, before recalling that Burke first joined his company as an intern student back in the early 80s, just as they moved to the United States to open luxury real estate projects in Florida. Arnault recollecting his amazement that within three days after arriving in Miami Brigitte had already managed to organize a warm and elegant home.
“No wonder she was the only person I never heard Michael criticize,” added Arnault, drawing a ripple of laughter from the audience. To which, Burke quipped: “I don’t ever recall criticizing you.”
Known as a fair though driven CEO, Burke has held senior positions at Christian Dior, Bulgari, Fendi and at Louis Vuitton. In a remarkable decade as Vuitton CEO, he oversaw the fastest ever accumulation of revenues and profits of any luxury marque ever in history.
Brigitte and Michael first met as teenagers in the 1970s, going on to university together in Lille. Subsequent to their marriage, the couple spent many years in the US, as Michael directed first Dior and then Vuitton in North America. After LVMH acquired Fendi in 2013, Burke was named president, moved to Italy and brilliantly revived the Roman marque.
Five sons stood side by side on the podium, each wearing bright orchids and flowers. The Dress code read: “an outfit in memory of Brigitte’s joyful spirit and sunny disposition.” In one particularly affecting speech, their youngest son, 16-year-old Luca, revealed that Brigitte had lost a child at the end of a pregnancy. And that no matter how short that existence not six but seven members of her immediate family were bidding Brigitte farewell.
“Brigitte made a beautiful home for the Burke family behind the Imperial Forum. They came to Rome with four kids and they left with five,” recalled Silvia Venturi Fendi, who attended along with fellow designers Kim Jones, Jonathan Anderson, Camille Miceli, Johnny Coca and Williams.
“We know that Brigitte’s life generated a lot of love. So many people will remember the sound of her voice, the glory she brought with her very special children, the laughter she brought into the room whenever she had a conversation… Now, she is off in the heavens with The Master, shining with the rest of the stars… And we know that this is true from the reflection of love that is in this room right now. Listen, to some she is a loss, but to heaven she is a gain. Blessings,” said Pharrell.
Some 200 people gathered for the commemoration, before the large and beautiful Water Lilies of Claude Monet. Close friends from Miami recalled that in her final days there Brigitte remained positive and optimistic, with her thoughts always concerned with others. A pair of sopranos had opened the memorial, with a poignant rendition of Bridge of Troubled Waters, while Burke ended it with an oration.
Looking back on over 50 years together, the 66-year-old Burke noted that when they moved to Connecticut, Brigitte began skiing again and decided to become a real estate agent. Two years later she was the downhill champion of Connecticut and the state’s fastest moving realtor.
“She was so magnetic, just her mere presence in a room would light up any space. She radiated with extraordinary resilience. Wherever she lived she knew everyone and united them all,” said Burke, recalling dinners with Virgil Abloh and Pharrell.
“We must not try to fill the void of absence or wait for it to dissipate. Brigitte hated pathos in the face of suffering and showed her incredible courage. She never lamented. We have shared 50 years with Brigitte – an intense and wonderfully auspicious life… You made it beautiful with a multitude of little touches. This life spent by your side is a life more than well lived. With our five sons who have become men, the most beautiful is ours. Thank you,” he concluded, sounding very much like a devoted gentleman and father mourning the loss of the love of his life, and still truly in awe of his departed partner.
Amor est vita essentia.
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