LVMH heiress Delphine Arnault steps in Dior


Louis Vuitton staff received a surprise visit earlier this month as they were putting the finishing touches on screens for a new collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It was late at night at the flagship Champs Elysées store, but Delphine Arnault, the 47-year-old daughter of LVMH’s billionaire owner and Louis Vuitton’s number two, wanted to make sure the presentation was perfect.

Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, who has worked closely with Arnault for more than a decade, said the visit, which took place at 11 p.m., was typical of his attention to detail. “When you design, he already has an idea of ​​how the product will look in the boutique,” he says. “He’s more demanding than most, but I take it easy because I know he’ll make sure my ideas reach the market intact.”

It’s easy to dismiss Delphine Arnault as just another heiress pushed up the ranks by her parents. Bernard Arnault turned LVMH into a behemoth, making it the 12th largest company globally by market capitalization and moving his family closer to the world’s richest list.

On Wednesday, he nominated his daughter to be CEO of Dior, LVMH’s second-biggest brand with sales of about 8 billion euros last year, excluding perfumes and cosmetics, according to Citi. It’s a big step forward, suggesting Arnault believes Arnault has proven himself since the patriarch joined the company in his mid-20s.

He will take over a thriving business – his predecessor, Pietro Beccari, has tripled sales since 2018, and the brand has an elite from Shanghai to New York. His nomination catapults him into the biggest operational role of any of the five Arnault children working for the group. For now, he is the only person sitting on the 14-member executive committee.

Family ownership remains common in the luxury goods sector, as do questions about how future generations can successfully carry on the businesses they inherited. These are always in the background at LVMH, although Bernard Arnault, 73, has no plans to retire anytime soon. Last year, the age limit of the executive head was raised from 75 to 80 in the corporate charter.

For now, says one analyst, “investors don’t feel good about it.” But people who know Delphine Arnault warn not to underestimate her. They say she has a knack for working with designers, an understanding of what products will work and how to market them, and — most importantly for a company that derives most of its revenue from leather goods — an eye for the hit bag.

Soft-spoken and private, Arnault lived in New York as a child — a big change from the family’s previous home in Roubaix, an industrial town in northern France. It taught him adaptability and made his English almost accent-free.

He later graduated from Edhec business school in France and the London School of Economics before learning the luxury ropes from Sidney Toledano and Michael Burke, two of LVMH’s top executives. From 2001 to 2013, he worked under Toledano at Dior, rising from footwear to deputy managing director, where he is credited with softening the fallout from John Galliano’s scandalous departure in 2011.

Surprise visits to stores are something that Bernard Arnault often does, and in this and other respects, Delphine is her father’s daughter. Those who know them say they share a natural authority and directness, as well as strong ambitions, even if he doesn’t show it publicly. They also share a passion for art and art collecting.

“There’s a special connection — she’s his only daughter and his oldest,” Toledano said. “He has a strong personality and can be direct with it.”

His influence with his father within the company is such that employees or managers often discreetly lobby him to win support for a new project or a major hire.

Arnault has also played a major role in hiring the artistic directors who carry out the LVMH brands. His additions to the stable include Raf Simons at Dior, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe and Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. In 2014, he created the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, a global talent search, with the winner receiving a €300,000 grant and a year of mentorship.

“It intimidates designers at first, but it has this listening quality that makes it surprisingly approachable and accessible,” says Isabella Capece Galeota, who has worked with the award since its inception.

Others say he has a calm management style and tries to build consensus rather than make decisions. When he first started working with Ghesquière on new bag ideas, he joined him, sitting in the workshop as he tried out different pieces of leather and fabric. “It was surprising. . . but he was very natural,” she recalls.

Outside of work, she has two children with telecom billionaire Xavier Niel. A dedicated art collector, Gagosian sits on the board of an art gallery with Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, a family friend. “He got really into the L.A. art scene, so we were able to visit artists together when he was in town,” she said. “He’s really interested in the creative process and loves seeing artists at work.”

Such a visit to the studios of Jonas Wood and Alex Israel proved fruitful for Louis Vuitton – the two participated in a 2019 project in which the artists reimagined the best-selling Capucines bag. As is typical for the Arnault family, work is never far away.

leila.abboud@ft.com, lauren.indvik@ft.com



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