Only Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are richer: Bernard Arnault, his life and wealth as the owner of luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Dior and much more
- In four decades, Bernard Arnault has built and controls a global fashion and luxury goods empire, and is now worth US$137 billion
- All his children work in the family business at LVMH brands Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Tag Heuer and Berluti
When it comes to the world of luxury goods, no one is more successful than Bernard Arnault.
Arnault, the 72-year-old CEO of French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has built his fortune over the span of almost four decades, amassing an empire that includes some of the best-known names in fashion, jewellery and alcohol, including Louis Vuitton, Tag Heuer and Dom Pérignon.
Along the way, Arnault has brought his five adult children into the fold, building a family-run business that has resulted in the world’s third-largest fortune.
Here’s how Arnault got his start and became one of the richest people in the world.
The 73-year-old French businessman is the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, known as LVMH. Arnault owns a 97.5 per cent stake in Christian Dior, which controls 41.2 per cent of LVMH.
Arnault comes from the northern French town of Roubaix and studied engineering at one of France’s most prestigious schools, the École Polytechnique. After graduating, Arnault went to work for his father’s construction company, Ferret-Savinel.
In 1984, Arnault acquired an ailing company called Agache-Willot-Boussac, which owned brands like French department store Le Bon Marché and the fashion house Christian Dior. He renamed the firm Financière Agache and initiated a turnaround, cutting costs and selling off some of its businesses. Soon after, he bought fashion house Celine and funded the French designer Christian Lacroix.
In the late 1980s, Arnault said his goal was to run the world’s largest luxury company within the following decade. He then set his sights on LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, spending US$2.6 billion buying up shares to become the company’s largest shareholder, and eventually its chairman and CEO, by 1989.
Arnault married Anne Dewavrin in 1973, and they had two children together before separating in 1990. Arnault remarried in 1991, to Hélène Mercier, a Canadian concert pianist. He reportedly wooed her by playing Chopin and other classical composers.
Like many of his fellow billionaires, Arnault lives a lavish life. He travels by private jet, owns a sprawling holiday villa in glitzy Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, and reportedly has also spent at least US$96.4 million on residential properties in the Los Angeles area: in Beverly Hills, the Trousdale Estates and Hollywood Hills.
The French billionaire and his wife live on Paris’s Left Bank, south of the Seine River, a historic area that includes neighbourhoods such as the Latin Quarter and St Germain-des-Prés.
In their home, Arnault keeps a collection of modern and contemporary art from artists that include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Maurizio Cattelan, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso.
Delphine, Arnault’s oldest daughter, is the apparent heiress to the LVMH empire. She started her career at American consultancy firm McKinsey in Paris and is now the executive vice-president at Louis Vuitton. In January 2019, Delphine became the youngest member of LVMH’s executive committee at age 43.
Delphine married Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005 in what Forbes called at the time “France’s wedding of the year”. They divorced in 2010. She now reportedly lives with tech billionaire Xavier Niel and has one daughter. Delphine is notoriously private about her personal life. In a 2014 interview with the Financial Times, she said, “I’m quite discreet. I think I’d rather focus on my work.”
Delphine’s younger brother Antoine is chief executive of menswear label Berluti and chair of the cashmere label Loro Piana, both LVMH brands. In addition to those roles, Antoine was named head of communications and image for LVMH in June 2018.
He’s married to supermodel Natalia Vodianova, whom he reportedly met on a shoot for a 2008 Louis Vuitton campaign when he was the brand’s head of communications. The couple lives in Paris with their two children and Vodianova’s three children from a previous marriage.
Alexandre, the son of Bernard Arnault and Mercier, is an executive at Tiffany. LVMH acquired Tiffany in 2021, after which Alexandre became the company’s executive vice-president of product and communications.
Frédéric graduated from his father’s alma mater, École Polytechnique in Paris, and interned at Facebook and consulting firm McKinsey before joining LVMH.
Arnault’s youngest son, Jean, joined the family business in 2021. He became marketing and product director in Louis Vuitton’s watch division in August 2021. Jean, who was 23 at the time, has a master’s degree in financial mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a master’s in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London, WWD reported.
According to his LinkedIn profile, he interned at Morgan Stanley and McLaren Racing and worked in a Louis Vuitton retail store before joining the company full-time.
Arnault has rubbed shoulders with some of the planet’s most influential figures, in the fashion world and otherwise.
In 2017, Arnault met President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City, right before Trump’s inauguration, to discuss expanding LVMH factories in the US. The company opened a new 100,000 sq ft Louis Vuitton factory in Texas in 2019, the company’s third factory in the US.
Arnault was reportedly friends with Apple founder Steve Jobs. Jobs once said to Arnault: “You know, Bernard, I don’t know if in 50 years my iPhone will still be a success, but I can tell you, I’m sure everybody will still drink your Dom Pérignon.”
Former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein once called Arnault “a complete visionary”, adding that he “saw the increase of wealth in the world”.
Arnault is reportedly long-time friends with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and was a witness at Sarkozy’s wedding to singer and model Carla Bruni.
“The death of this dear friend deeply saddens me, my wife and my children,” Arnault said in a statement upon Lagerfeld’s death in 2019. “We loved and admired him deeply. Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration.”
But Arnault also has a long-standing public rivalry: with François Pinault, the founder of luxury group Kering, who’s worth about US$37 billion. Kering owns brands including Gucci and Yves St Laurent. The billionaire also owns Christie’s auction house.
LVMH originally tried to acquire a majority stake in Gucci in 1999, but Pinault ultimately snatched up the brand.
Over the years, Arnault has built LVMH into the largest luxury conglomerate in the world and earned himself an imposing nickname: “the wolf in the cashmere coat”.
He’s behind the creation of Fondation Louis Vuitton, a Frank Gehry-designed contemporary art museum and performance space in Paris, that opened in 2014.
In April 2019, LVMH released a statement on behalf of the Arnault family, pledging €200 million to help rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was heavily damaged in a 2019 fire.
In October 2020, Arnault’s company bought Tiffany for US$15.8 billion in the luxury sector’s biggest deal. The contentious sale involved multiple lawsuits and a US$400 million price drop.
When it comes to finances, the past few years have been a roller-coaster ride for Arnault and LVMH.
In January 2019, Arnault made US$4.3 billion in a single day after LVMH shares surged 6.9 per cent. And just six months later, on June 19, 2019, Arnault again made news when he became the third person in the world to reach a US$100 billion net worth.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and pandemic-related shutdowns sank LVMH’s stock, sending Arnault’s personal net worth down more than US$30 billion by May 2020.
But as the world opened up again, LVMH’s stock recovered, thanks to strong sales in fashion and leather goods and an uptick in alcohol sales, particularly champagne.
It’s been a good year so far for the company: it recorded €36.7 billion in revenue in the first half of 2022, up 28 per cent from the same period in 2021.
Arnault remains the world’s third-richest person, behind Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, with a fortune worth US$137 billion.