Delphine Arnault, an LVMH heir steps up at Dior


As Louis Vuitton staff put the finishing touches on the displays for a new collaboration with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama earlier this month, they received a surprise visit. 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 number two executive at Louis Vuitton, wanted to make sure the launch was perfect.

Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of Louis Vuitton who has worked closely with Arnault for more than a decade, said the 11pm visit was typical of her attention to detail. “When you’re designing, she already has a vision of what the product will look like in the boutique,” he says. “She is more demanding than most, but I find it reassuring since I know she will make sure that my ideas reach the market intact.”

It is easy to dismiss Delphine Arnault as another heir ushered up the ranks by their parent. Bernard Arnault built LVMH into a behemoth, turning it into the 12th-biggest company globally by market capitalisation and putting his family near the top of the world’s richest list.

On Wednesday, he promoted his daughter to chief executive of Dior, LVMH’s second-largest brand with almost €8bn in sales last year, according to Citi, excluding fragrance and cosmetics. It is a big step up, suggesting the patriarch believes Arnault has proven herself since joining the company in her mid-20s.

She will take over a thriving business — Pietro Beccari, her predecessor, has tripled sales since 2018 and the brand has an elite following from Shanghai to New York. Her nomination also thrusts her into the biggest operational role of any of the five Arnault children, all of whom work at the group. So far, she is the only one to sit on the 14-member executive committee.

Family ownership remains common in the luxury goods sector, as do questions over how successfully future generations carry on the businesses they inherit. Those are always in the background at LVMH, although Bernard Arnault, 73, has no intention of retiring anytime soon. Last year, the corporate bylaws raised the chief executive age limit from 75 to 80.

For the time being, says one analyst, “investors do not have a good feel for her.” But people who know Delphine Arnault warn against underestimating her. They say she has a knack for working with designers, a sense of what products will work and how to market them and — importantly for a company that makes most of its profits from leather goods — an eye for a hit handbag.

Softly spoken and protective of her personal life, Arnault lived in New York as a child — a big change from the family’s previous home in the northern French industrial town of Roubaix. This taught her adaptability and left her speaking nearly accentless English.

She later graduated from Edhec business school in France and London School of Economics, before learning the luxury ropes from Sidney Toledano and Michael Burke, two of LVMH’s best executives. From 2001 to 2013 she worked under Toledano at Dior, starting in shoes and progressing to deputy managing director, where she is credited with tempering the fallout of John Galliano’s scandalous departure in 2011.

Paying surprise visits to stores is something Bernard Arnault often does and in this, and other respects, Delphine is her father’s daughter. People who know them say they share a natural authority and directness, as well as strong ambition, although she does not display it as openly. They also share a passion for art and art collecting.

“There is a special bond — she is his only daughter and the eldest,” says Toledano. “She has a strong personality and can be direct with him.”

Within the company, her influence with her father is such that employees or managers often discreetly lobby her as a way to gain backing for a new project or a big hire.

Arnault has also played a major role in recruiting the artistic directors who bring LVMH brands to life. Her additions to the stable include Raf Simons at Dior, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe and Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. In 2014, she created the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, a global talent search, with the winner getting a €300,000 grant and a year of mentoring.

“She is intimidating to the designers at first, but she has this quality of listening that makes her surprisingly approachable and accessible,” says Isabella Capece Galeota, who has worked on the prize since its inception.

Others say she has a calm management style and seeks to build consensus instead of imposing decisions. When she first began working on new handbag ideas with Ghesquière, she joined him in sitting on the workshop floor while he tried out different pieces of leather and fabric. “It was surprising . . . but she was very natural,” he recalls.

Outside of work, she has two children with telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel. A dedicated art collector, she sits on the board of the Gagosian art gallery with Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, who is a friend of the family. “She got really into the Los Angeles art scene so we would go visit artists together when she was in town,” he says. “She is really interested in the creative process herself, and loves to see artists at work.”

One such visit to the studios of Jonas Wood and Alex Israel turned out to be fruitful for Louis Vuitton — the two took part in a 2019 project in which artists reimagined the top-selling Capucines handbag. As is typical for the Arnault family, work is never far away.

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



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