Over a lingering lunch with a buddy simply off the Champs-Elysees, Bernard Arnault, head of the £354 billion LVMH luxurious items empire — and by a long way now the world’s richest man — was requested which of his youngsters he noticed as his potential successor.
The inscrutable Arnault fastened his acquaintance with an apologetic smile and, spreading his palms, replied: ‘Effectively, I’ve 5 . . .’ earlier than his voice tailed off.
And lately, that enigmatic response has been the closest the person dubbed ‘a wolf in cashmere’ has come to addressing a most enthralling and glamorous inheritance saga that has stored the stylish salons of Paris aflame with gossip. Will or not it’s his 45-year-old son Antoine, lengthy assumed to be the frontrunner? Or his eldest baby Delphine, 47, who has simply been promoted over her brother’s head?
Arnault’s eldest baby Delphine (pictured), 47, has simply been promoted over her brother’s head
What makes this Succession-style story so intriguing — as with the fictional story of the Roy media dynasty within the backstabbing TV drama — is that every one 5 youngsters from Arnault’s two marriages are employed within the household enterprise.
A ruthless wheeler-dealer and arduous employee, he has at all times anticipated his offspring to be the identical. Antoine, elevated to vice-chairman and charged with working the holding firm that controls the haute couture-to-champagne conglomerate, would appear to be the pure successor to his father.
Good-looking, outgoing and married to a Russian supermodel, Natalia Vodianova — aka Supernova, who was previously married to property-owning London aristocrat Justin Portman — it was poker-playing Antoine who has at all times appeared probably the most assured on the earth of high-end style and luxurious marques.
Amongst its many manufacturers, the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy group — LVMH — controls jewellers Tiffany and Bulgari, watchmaker Tag Heuer, the unique Chateau d’Yquem Bordeaux winery and style labels Givenchy, Fendi, Celine, Stella McCartney and the largest prize of all, Christian Dior.
Arnault likes to maintain the markets — and rivals — guessing at his intentions as a lot as members of the family. It’s his unpredictability in addition to his buccaneering model that final month noticed his private wealth eclipse that of Elon Musk, beforehand the world’s richest man.
His resolution the opposite day to unveil his solely daughter, Delphine, as head of Dior, LVMH’s second-largest model, not solely provoked gasps at board stage in France’s snooty couture business however fired the beginning pistol on the world’s most irresistible (and probably most risky) contest to see which of the Arnault offspring succeeds to grow to be not simply the brand new king — or queen — of style however maybe the richest particular person on the planet.
Antoine, elevated to vice-chairman and charged with working the holding firm that controls the haute couture-to-champagne conglomerate, would appear to be the pure successor to his father
No marvel there’s lip-smacking anticipation at what Luca Solca, an analyst at Wall Road funding agency Bernstein, says threatens to be a ‘Darwinian contest’ amongst Arnault’s youngsters.
Arnault v Arnault? Certainly not on this close-knit household, which traces its gilded roots again to Bernard’s good resolution to diversify his father’s strong however unexceptional development firm into textiles.
By way of company acquisitions, he ultimately took management of Christian Dior, shedding 9,000 staff and incomes the nickname ‘The Terminator’.
Years of enlargement adopted, with ever extra well-known names procured — together with Kenzo, Marc Jacobs, Loewe, Loro Piana and the perfumer Guerlain, to call however a number of — and whereas there have been often hostile enterprise takeover upsets, the Arnault identify reigned supreme.
Now he has put considered one of his youngsters answerable for an iconic LVMH model for the primary time, the panorama has abruptly modified.
The timing has been fortuitous — for Delphine. As Paris Trend Week unveiled one eye-popping development after one other, she has been nearly in every single place.
Simply days after her unveiling, she was entrance row — naturally — on the Dior runway present, alongside David Beckham, his youngest son Cruz, actor Eddie Redmayne and his publicist spouse Hannah, the Twilight star Robert Pattinson and mannequin Karlie Kloss.
CEO of LVMH Bernard Arnault (R) and Helene Arnault pictured collectively
Was this an early assertion of intent from Dior’s new CEO that she too, thanks very a lot, is simply as a lot comfortable as her brother among the many celeb elite? Observers might look askance on the household’s large work ethic, but it surely appears to be constructed into their DNA.
Antoine was 14 when his youthful brother Alexandre was born, however he despatched him a be aware studying: ‘Expensive Alexandre, I hope that your start went effectively, and that you simply’re all proper. I counsel you to begin working straight away as a result of in any other case . . .’
Antoine revealed this unfinished be aware on his Instagram account final yr. How critical was it and what does it inform us about sibling rivalry and household ambition? Nobody is saying.
So for now, or no less than till her father decides his subsequent transfer, all eyes are on divorced Delphine — over 6ft tall in her LV heels — who has inherited her father’s air of inscrutability.
It was instructed final week that traders ‘should not have really feel for her’. Others cattily described her sudden elevation to chief government of Dior as ‘a bit current from Daddy’.
However designers and style individuals warn towards underestimating her. Like her father, Delphine has a behavior of paying shock visits to the corporate’s outlets after hours.
Additionally, like him, she has a watch for successful high-end purse, considered one of LVMH’s core merchandise (she nonetheless has one she obtained for her 18th birthday). When employees on the flagship Vuitton retailer in Paris have been finalising a collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama earlier this month, Delphine labored till near midnight checking and fine-tuning the window shows.
She has additionally inherited her father’s pure authority and directness, expertise she wanted when dealing with the fallout from the John Galliano scandal in 2011.
The British designer was caught on digicam insulting a gaggle of Italian girls with anti-Semitic slurs throughout a drunken rant in a restaurant.
Within the uproar that adopted — Galliano was filmed telling a girl he thought was Jewish that he cherished Hitler and that her mother and father ought to have been ‘gassed’ — he was suspended and later fired as Dior’s artistic director.
A senior determine at LVMH instructed the Mail pointedly: ‘Monsieur Arnault has 4 sons however Delphine is the golden baby proper now.’
Parisians are loving the thought of the sudden promotion of the willowy blonde for its parallels with HBO collection Succession, through which the one daughter of tycoon Logan Roy, Shiv, is shocked when she turns into favorite to take over the empire.
However Arnault, the patriarch, has constructed a dynasty extra glamorous and infinitely richer than the fictional Roys.
Arnault lives in a 12-bedroom 18th-century pile not removed from the Arc de Triomphe. His fortune is reported to prime £170 billion. He has a chateau at Rambouillet within the Ile-de-France area, the place he weekends along with his second spouse, Canada-born classical pianist Helene Mercier.
They preserve a menagerie of animals together with chickens, sheep, donkeys and canine. There may be additionally a villa close to St Tropez and a non-public island within the Bahamas. There are different houses in New York, Miami and St Barts within the French West Indies.
One after the other, all his youngsters have joined the enterprise, the place they work in numerous divisions of their father’s empire together with Frederic, 28, who runs Tag Heuer
Arnault additionally owns the Nyn Park property in Hertfordshire and when the household ski within the Alps at trendy Courchevel, they keep at their very own luxurious resort, the five-star Cheval Blanc.
One after the other, all his youngsters have joined the enterprise, the place they work in numerous divisions of their father’s empire.
The youngest, by spouse quantity two, merely adopted within the footsteps of Antoine and Delphine. In addition to the aforementioned Alexandre, now 30, who’s communications supervisor at Tiffany, there’s Frederic, 28, who runs Tag Heuer; and Jean, 24, the advertising and marketing head of Louis Vuitton watches.
As with all of the Arnault clan, Delphine has confronted accusations that she is simply one other product of nepotism — extra crudely a ‘nepo-baby’ — whose profession has benefited in no small method from household connections. Such youngsters dominate French business, past LVMH and cosmetics agency L’Oreal.
A number of huge companies, together with telecoms big Bouygues and the Pinault household’s Kering group — proprietor of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga — are run by dynasties.
There may be usually a level of resentment towards such households, not least due to their shut hyperlinks to serving French presidents. Nicolas Sarkozy invited Bernard Arnault to be his greatest man when he made mannequin Carla Bruni his third spouse on the Elysee Palace in 2008.
And Sarko was among the many friends when Delphine married her first husband, Italian wine inheritor Alessandro Gancia, in 2005.
Antoine was 14 when his youthful brother Alexandre (pictured) was born
Galliano made the costume and Karl Lagerfeld took the images. However the union didn’t final and the couple have been divorced 5 years later.
All the identical, Delphine’s political antennae appear to be as acutely adjusted as her father’s. She is an in depth buddy of President Macron’s spouse Brigitte, who’s dressed by Louis Vuitton, though ‘she at all times returns the garments after use’.
And the Macron connection goes again a lot farther. The president’s spouse taught Arnault’s two youngest sons French on the Franklin lycee in Paris.
It was whereas she was educating at one other Franklin lycee, in Amiens, northern France, that Brigitte was mentioned to have seduced the younger Emmanuel Macron.
Like her father, Delphine additionally lives in luxurious model. Her principal dwelling, the place she lives along with her associate, tech billionaire Xavier Niel, and their two youngsters is a reproduction of the Petit Trianon at Versailles, full with swimming pool and in depth gardens.
There may be additionally a £16 million summer time home on the French Riviera. The unique Petit Trianon is the neoclassical mansion that King Louis XVI gave to his Queen Marie Antoinette as a nineteenth birthday current and which she changed into her retreat.
(L-R) Frederic Arnault, Delphine Arnault and Jean Arnault attend the Louis Vuitton Womenswear Spring/Summer time 2022 present
Pampered girls like Delphine Arnault are routinely likened to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette in treacherous style circles — however in actuality there isn’t any comparability.
Delphine is whip-smart. After enterprise college in distinctly retro Lille, France’s coalmining district, she studied within the U.S. and on the London College of Economics and labored for administration consultants McKinsey earlier than becoming a member of her father’s enterprise, the place she began in sneakers at Dior after which graduated to leather-based items.
Lately, she has had a hand in hiring inventive administrators who’ve wowed the style crowd: Raf Simons at Dior and Jonathan Anderson at Loewe.
Delphine not often offers interviews, however in a second of introspection she as soon as admitted it was lucky that the household empire was about style, fragrance and cosmetics: ‘If my father had owned a tyre firm, I don’t know what I’d have executed,’ she mentioned.
Like her father, she shares a ardour for artwork amassing. She sits on the board of the hip Gagosian gallery alongside Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, a household buddy. Is all this going to be sufficient for this most beautiful of crowns to be hers?
In accordance with household pals, Delphine is her father’s daughter. ‘There’s a particular bond — she is his solely daughter and the eldest,’ says Sidney Toledano, from whom she learnt the posh ropes.
‘She has a powerful persona and could be direct with him.’
For all of the Succession-style manoeuvring, one query stays: does Bernard Arnault, who shall be 74 in March, really wish to stand apart?
Final yr, company bylaws raised the corporate’s retirement age from 75 to 80.
So what about his successor? As he instructed that lunchtime buddy of the competing claims of his youngsters: ‘All of them have one thing of me.’ Delphine, in the meantime, shall be hoping she has simply that little bit extra.