Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest person, has appointed his eldest daughter, Delphine, to run Christian Dior, the second-biggest brand in his €382bn (£337bn) luxury goods empire LVMH.
The reorganisation comes after an extraordinary year for Arnault, in which the 73-year-old’s personal fortune overtook that of the US entrepreneur Elon Musk, while a surge in the LVMH share price nudged the combined value of companies listed in Paris above London.
Arnault is cementing family control over a business he co-founded 35 years ago, in a move seen by many in the fashion industry as setting up a succession battle between Delphine, 47, and her brother Antoine, 45, who was promoted last month to run the holding company that controls LVMH and the $178bn (£147bn) Arnault fortune.
However, the contest could extend to all five of Arnault’s children. Delphine and Antoine, from his first marriage to Anne Dewavrin, now have top roles at LVMH. But all three of his children with his second wife, Hélène Mercier, also have important jobs within the world’s largest luxury goods company, that also includes brands such as Stella McCartney, TAG Heuer, Bulgari and Tiffany.
Alexandre Arnault, 30, is an executive at Tiffany, Frederic Arnault, 28, is chief executive of TAG Heuer, while the youngest child, Jean Arnault, 24, heads marketing and product development for Louis Vuitton’s watches division.
Some analysts have compared the competition between the Arnault children to that of Rupert Murdoch’s offspring or that of the Roys in the hit TV show Succession.
Luca Solca, an analyst at investment firm Bernstein, has said Arnault is creating a “Darwinian contest” to succeed him as chief executive of LVMH, which he co-founded in 1987. The secret of his success, says Solca, was the invention of a paradox: “selling exclusivity by the million”.
The heirs may, however, have some time to wait until taking over the running of the family firm, as it changed the company’s bylaws last year to allow a chief executive to continue running the firm until the age of 80, up from the previous 75.
Arnault announced on Wednesday that Delphine, now the executive vice-president of Louis Vuitton, will become Dior’s chief executive and chair from 1 February.
“Under Delphine’s leadership, the desirability of Louis Vuitton products advanced significantly, enabling the brand to regularly set new sales records,” he said. “Her keen insights and incomparable experience will be decisive assets in driving the ongoing development of Christian Dior.”
Delphine Arnault joined the family business in 2000 after two years at the management consultancy firm McKinsey and studying at the London School of Economics. She joined the LVMH board in 2003 – becoming the first woman and youngest person to serve on it.
The appointment marks a return to the brand Arnault first worked for in 2001, where she started working on shoes before rising to become a deputy general manager and liaising directly with Dior’s then creative director, John Galliano.
She was credited with minimising the fallout from Galliano’s racist and antisemitic rants at people in a Paris bar in 2011 that led to him being sacked and convicted for racism and antisemitism.
Delphine Arnault has said she was not heavily exposed to the family’s brands or extreme wealth as a child, but remembers getting a brown Louis Vuitton Noé bag (now retailing at £1,160) on her 18th birthday and attending her first lavish party when she was 21.
“I remember very well the 100-year ceremony, in 1996. There was a big party and at the top of the room was Naomi Campbell arriving on stage on a giraffe,” she told the Financial Times in 2014.
She is married to Xavier Niel, a French telecoms billionaire and co-owner of daily newspaper Le Monde, whose extensive collection of assets include rights to the song My Way popularised by Frank Sinatra.
Her younger brother Antoine, who graduated from HEC Montreal and holds an MBA from the business school Insead, is said to have been the brains behind a recent Louis Vuitton advertising campaign that featured Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi facing off in a chess game photographed by Annie Leibovitz.
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