Alain Coblence, an attorney who represented numerous high-profile designers, died May 13 at the age of 75.
His death at his home in Manhattan followed an eight-year battle with an undisclosed disease, according to his son Nicholas. A musical concert will be held at a later date to celebrate his life.
Born in New York to French parents of Jewish descent who had sought refuge in New York in the latter part of World War II, Coblence was a toddler when the family returned to Paris to live. He studied at one point at Sciences Po before going on to earn his law degree at Nanterre. After passing the bar in Paris, he relocated with his first wife, Nora, to the U.S., where he enrolled at New York University’s law school. Coblence joined Phillips Nizer as an associate, where he learned about the business side of intellectual property, building upon his European-learned knowledge of literary and artistic property rights.
As a cultured Parisian transplant in New York City, he got to know several fashion industry executives, including Condé Nast’s dominating creative force for decades Alexander Liberman and his wife Tatiana Yacovleff du Plessix. Liberman connected the 27-year-old lawyer with Yves Saint Laurent’s business partner Pierre Bergé, who was in search of representation Stateside, and that business alliance was the start of a deep friendship.
Madison Cox, Bergé’s widower and president of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, recalled first meeting Coblence at his glamorous Central Park South apartment. Very handsome and charismatic, Coblence had “this incredible passion for classic music, opera and theater” that he shared with Bergé, Cox said. “At the same time, he had this incredible legal mind, which is quite rare, especially in the field of law. He was very a gentle soul and compassionate with creative people so they felt very at ease whether that be Andrée Putman or Jessye Norman.”
Bergé relied on Coblence for discussing such complex business matters as when the Saint Laurent company purchased Charles of the Ritz Cosmetics from Squibb in 1986. “But at the same time, Alain was someone who could still dash off to the opera or theater,” Cox said. ”In the late ’70s and ’80s, that whole fashion world was changing. There were hundreds of licenses, contracts to be reviewed and things happening in Asia and most importantly in Japan. Alain was a very important part of the evolution of that brand.”
Early on in his career, Coblence worked on the 1974 Supreme Court case of CBS vs. Teleprompter Corp., which gave way to the rise of cable television. In 1975, he was admitted to the New York Bar, and that same year he opened his own practice with offices in New York and Paris. In addition to Yves Saint Laurent, Coblence catered to French corporate clients such as Gaumant, Bocuse Vergé and Lenôtre who were seeking representation in the U.S. and Americans ones in need of representation in France. Although his career was primarily based in New York, he maintained an apartment in Paris for much of his life.
A tireless worker who preferred to work independently than to hire more associates for support, Coblence worked with such designers as Azzedine Alaïa, Kenzo, Cacharel, Olivier Theyskens, Joseph Altuzarra, Prabal Gurung, Christian Louboutin and Issey Miyake, to name a few. He often befriended his clients, once explaining to his son, “People don’t hire me to work with someone else. I have a relationship with them. I built those relationships.” So much so, that the attorney would stay in touch with them, dine with them and advise them informally as time went on, his son said. The culturally sensitive lawyer politely obliged their culinary preferences, despite his own tastes. During sushi dinners, he would stealthily stash any raw fish in his pockets, Nicholas Coblence explained.
In the ’80s, Alain Coblence was involved with French acquisitions such as Diamandis for Hachette and Austin Nichols for Pernod. He was also the proponent and drafted the Design Piracy Prohibition Act representing the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in their efforts to try to extend copyright laws in the U.S. to fashion design.
In 1992 as an avid supporter of the arts and lifelong classical music fan, Coblence (who had once aspired to become a conductor) founded the European Mozart Foundation, a nonprofit music academy in Central Europe to bring back music to culturally devoid places. He served as president for several years.
His philanthropy included being a longtime board member for the Shimon Peres Center for Peace and vice chairman of the French American Cultural Exchange.
In 2001, Coblence started Andante Records with Bergé to stream and sell classical music via Andante.com, which was bought out by Vivendi five years later. Coblence continued to practice law working with such artistic clients as William Forsythe and the Water Mill Center’s founder Robert Wilson, whose Byrd Hoffman Foundation’s board he served on. Coblence was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion D’Honneur by the French government in 2006.
Coblence, whose two marriages ended in divorce, is survived by his son, and a daughter Carmel Nacht Coblence, as well as his two former wives, Nora Coblence and Nurit Pacht, an acclaimed violinist.