The life and career of Bernard Arnault, the luxury goods mogul who owns brands like Louis Vuitton — and whose wealth is surpassed only by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

  • Bernard Arnault briefly surpassed Elon Musk as the world’s second-richest person this week.
  • Arnault controls the massive luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton.
  • Four of Arnault’s children work at LVMH brands, including Louis Vuitton, Berluti, and TAG Heuer. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When it comes to the world of luxury goods, perhaps 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 a luxury-goods empire that includes some of the best-known names in fashion, jewelry, and alcohol, including Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer, and Dom Perignon.

Along the way, Arnault has brought four of his five adult children into the fold, building a family-run conglomerate 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. 

Marissa Perino contributed reporting. Taylor Nicole Rogers contributed to an earlier version of this story.

The 72-year-old French businessman is the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, known as LVMH. Arnault owns a 97.5% stake in Christian Dior, which controls 41.2% of LVMH.

Source: Bloomberg

Arnault comes from the northern French town of Roubaix — he 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.

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider

In 1984, Arnault acquired an ailing company called Agache-Willot-Boussac, which owned brands like French department store Bon Marche and the fashion house Christian Dior. He renamed the firm Financiere Agache and initiated a turnaround, cutting costs and selling off some of its businesses.

Source: Bloomberg

Soon after, he bought fashion house Celine and funded the French designer Christian Lacroix.

Source: The New York Times

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 $2.6 billion buying up shares in order to become the company's largest shareholder, and its chairman and CEO by 1989.

Source: The New York Times

Arnault married Anne Dewavrin in 1973 and they had two children together before separating in 1990. Arnault remarried to Helene Mercier, a Canadian concert pianist, in 1991.

Source: Financial Times, Forbes

He reportedly wooed her by playing Chopin and other classical composers.

Source: Forbes

The French billionaire and his wife live on Paris's Left Bank, south of the Seine River, a historic area that includes neighborhoods such as the Latin Quarter and St. Germain-des-Prés.

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times

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.

Source: Bloomberg

Arnault has five children: two with his first wife and three with his current wife.

Source: The New York Times

Antoine Arnault and Delphine Arnault are his two children from his first marriage.

Source: The New York Times, LVMH

Delphine, Arnault's oldest daughter, is the apparent heiress to the LVMH empire.

Source: The New York Times

She started her career at American consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. in Paris and is now the executive vice president at Louis Vuitton.

Source: Business of Fashion, The New York Times

In January 2019, Delphine became the youngest member of LVMH's executive committee at age 43.

Source: MDS

Delphine married Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005 in what Forbes called "France's wedding of the year." The couple divorced in 2010.

Source: Forbes, Business Insider

She now reportedly lives with tech billionaire Xavier Niel and has one daughter. But Delphine is notoriously private about her personal life. "I'm quite discreet," she told the Financial Times in a rare 2014 interview. "I think I’d rather focus on my work."

Source: Financial Times

Delphine's younger brother, Antoine, is chief executive of menswear label Berluti and chairman of the cashmere label Loro Piana, both LVMH brands.

Source: The New York Times, LVMH

In addition to those roles, Antoine was named head of communications and image for LVMH in June 2018.

Source: Business of Fashion

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.

Source: W Magazine

The couple lives in Paris with their two children and Vodianova's three children from a previous marriage.

Source: W Magazine

Alexandre, the son of Bernard Arnault and Helene Mercier, was the CEO of Rimowa, a German luggage brand owned by LVMH.

Source: The New York Times, LVMH, Getty Images

Following LVMH's acquisition of Tiffany & Co. last year, Alexandre was named Tiffany's executive vice president of product and communications.

Source: Business Insider

He appears to be friends with Evan Spiegel, the chief executive of Snap, Snapchat's parent company. Spiegel told The New York Times that Alexandre is "a really creative guy" and that "he's constantly thinking about the brand and how to express that."

Source: The New York Times

Alexandre's younger brother, Frederic, also has a role at LVMH. He joined the conglomerate as the strategy and digital director at Swiss luxury watch brand TAG Heuer, LVMH's largest watch brand, in 2018. Last June, Frederic became TAG Heuer's CEO.

Source: The New York Times, Robb Report

Frederic graduated from his father's alma mater, École Polytechnique in Paris, and interned at Facebook and consulting firm McKinsey before joining LVMH as the temporary head of connected technologies at TAG Heuer in 2017.

Source: The New York Times

Arnault's youngest son, Jean, age 21, is the only one of his children not involved at LVMH.

Source: The New York Times

Like many billionaires, Arnault travels by private jet.

Source: Getty Images

He owns a sprawling vacation villa in glitzy Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera …

Source: Telegraph

… where he has been seen enjoying some tennis matches.

Source: Getty Images

Arnault has also reportedly spent at least $96.4 million on residential properties in Los Angeles in the Beverly Hills, Trousdale Estates, and Hollywood Hills neighborhoods.

Source: The Real Deal

Arnault has rubbed shoulders with some of the world's influential figures, in the fashion world and otherwise. In 2017, he met President Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City right before Trump's inauguration to discuss expanding LVMH factories in the US.

Source: WWD

He was photographed at parties with Lady Diana, Princess of Wales.

Source: Getty Images

Arnault was reportedly friends with Apple founder Steve Jobs, who 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."

Source: CNBC

Former Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein once called Arnault "a complete visionary," adding that he "saw the increase of wealth in the world."

Source: CNBC

Arnault is reportedly longtime friends with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Arnault was a witness at the former president's wedding to Carla Bruni.

Source: The New York Times

Here, Arnault can be seen shaking hands with Vladimir Putin during the Russian president's 2003 visit to the Chateau Cheval Blanc vineyard in France, which is owned by LVMH.

Source: LVMH

Arnault considered legendary late designer and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld a good friend. "The death of this dear friend deeply saddens me, my wife and my children," Arnault said in a statement upon Lagerfeld's death. "We loved and admired him deeply. Fashion and culture has lost a great inspiration."

Source: LVMH

Arnault has a longstanding public rivalry with Francois Pinault, the founder of luxury group Kering, who's worth about $50 billion.

Source: Bloomberg

Kering owns brands including Gucci and Yves St. Laurent. The billionaire also owns Christie's auction house.

Source: Bloomberg

LVMH originally tried to acquire a majority stake in Gucci in 1999, but Pinault ultimately snatched up the brand.

Source: Forbes

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."

Source: The New York Times

He's behind the creation of Foundation Louis Vuitton, a Frank Gehry-designed contemporary art museum and performance space in Paris that opened in 2014.

Source: The New York Times

Arnault is getting richer at an astonishing rate. In January 2019, he made $4.3 billion in a single day after LVMH shares surged 6.9%. And just 16 months later, on June 19, Arnault again made news when he became the third person in the world to reach a $100 billion net worth.

Source: Bloomberg

In April 2019, LVMH released a statement on behalf on the Arnault family, pledging 200 million euros, or about $218.8 million, to help rebuild the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was damaged in a 2019 fire.

Source: Le Figaro

The coronavirus pandemic knocked Arnault down the Billionaires List. By May 2020, pandemic-related shut-downs sank LVMH's stock more than 17% from where it was at the start of 2020, sending Arnault's personal net worth down more than $30 billion.

Source: Bloomberg

In November 2020, LVMH completed its nearly $16 billion acquisition of jeweler Tiffany & Co., a history-making deal in the luxury sector. The contentious deal came after multiple lawsuits, a public war of words, and a $400 million discount.

Source: Business Insider

LVMH recorded 44.7 billion euros in revenue 2020 (roughly $54 billion), a 17% decrease from the year prior.

Source: LVMH, Business Insider

However, LVMH appears to be bouncing back in 2021: Revenue was up 32% in the first quarter compared to the same time last year. The company said it saw strong sales in fashion and leather goods in the beginning of the year, as well as an uptick in alcohol sales in the first quarter, particularly Champagne.

Source: Business Insider

With an estimated worth of $150 billion, Arnault is currently the world's third-richest person, surpassed only by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. This week, he briefly leapfroggedMusk to become the world's second-richest person.

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider

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