Inside the incredible world of Bernard Arnault

The French luxury magnate – AKA ‘the wolf in the cashmere coat’ – recently leapfrogged Elon Musk to become the richest man in the world. Here’s everything unlimited money (and good taste) can buy

It’s a sad time for both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, as Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) founder, chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault has officially become the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $209.5bn.

Famed as the man behind the world’s biggest and best-known luxury goods company, Arnault, 75, owns a 97.5 per cent stake in Christian Dior, which controls 41.4 percent of LVMH, the Paris-based multinational holding and conglomerate that, in turn, owns the finest brands in jewellery, alcohol and fashion, including Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer, and Dom Pérignon.

The background: Born in Roubaix, France, in 1949, Arnault started out in engineering, working for his father's company, Ferret-Savinel, before going into real estate.

He branched out in 1984, purchasing the struggling textile-and-retail conglomerate Boussac Saint-Frères, which owned a certain Christian Dior. Three years later, he bought Celine and funded designer Christian Lacroix, stamping his influence in the luxury fashion world, with his aggressive business practices earning him the nicknames ‘The terminator’ and ‘The wolf in the cashmere coat’.

Image: Getty

He later consolidated his status by merging Louis Vuitton with Moët Hennessy – a deal we’re assuming he celebrated with a very well-dressed, very drunken party. Across the next four decades, Arnault grew LVMH to incorporate brands such as Bulgari, Belvedere, Kenzo, Dom Pérignon, Givenchy, TAG Heuer, Veuve Clicquot and the French beauty chain Sephora. As of April, 2024, Arnault is also in talks to buy French magazine Paris Match for around $109m.

As the post-pandemic appetite for luxury items shows no sign of slowing down, LVMH – of which Arnault and his family now own around 50 per cent – posted a revenue of $93.2bn last year. The only non-American on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index of the top 10 wealthiest business leaders, Arnault has seen his wealth grow by a massive $23bn since the start of 2024, cementing his position as the richest man in the world.

Clearly, this is a person with taste, and money to burn – so, let’s now take a look at the goods, cars and properties Arnault has amassed over his 75-year climb to the top, as well as those who know him best.

The inner circle: Moving in such rarified air, Arnault naturally rubs shoulders with the great and the good.

He plays tennis with Roger Federer, hangs out with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and was friends with the late French president Jacques Chirac. Meanwhile, Arnault’s daughter, Delphine – who was married to Alessandro Vallarino Gancia, heir to an Italian-wine fortune – is said to be close with first lady Brigitte Macron.

Image: Getty

Arnault was also associated with the late Chanel genius Karl Lagerfeld, and has also been known to spend time with oligarch Roman Abramovich, and Donald Trump.

Image: Getty. Bernard Arnault with his son, Frédéric

When it comes to rivalries, his long-time competitor is François Pinault, the founder of luxury group Kering, which owns Gucci and Yves St. Laurent, as well as Christie's auction house.

Closer to home, Arnault recently announced that his sons Alexandre, a VP at Tiffany, and Frédéric, the former CEO of TAG Heuer, would be joining the LVMH board – making that four out of five children serving alongside him.

Antoine – who is married to supermodel Natalia Vodianova – and Delphine Arnault are his two children from his first marriage, to Anne Dewavrin, meanwhile Alexandre, Frédéric and Jean are from his second marriage, to concert pianist Hélène Mercier.

On the walls: Unsurprisingly for a French billionaire who lives in Paris, Arnault is fond of a decent painting.

Among his collection are modern and contemporary works by household names, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, as well as those by Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan, French post-war Nouveau realist Yves Klein, and Yorkshire sculptor Henry Moore.

When amassing such an impressive collection, it helps to own your own auction house, as Arnault did with Phillips de Pury & Company, from 1999 to 2003.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris

But, it’s one thing to show your appreciation for art and another to invest in it. LVMH did just that, emerging as a patron of the arts in France, with the LVMH Young Fashion Designer award open to students of fine-art schools worldwide. And, in 2006, Arnault initiated the building of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, an art museum in Paris, designed by the revered architect Frank Gehry and dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary. It was a bit of a baller move; many billionaires own world-class art, few own their very own gallery.

In the garage: Naturally, Arnault likes to keep a low profile, driving around Paris in a 2009 Vauxhall Astra.

Only kidding. Among his reported car collection are: a Bugatti Chiron, worth $3.3m; a Ferrari F12tdf, estimated at $1.5m; an Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf ($1m); a Rolls-Royce Phantom, valued at $450,000; a $600,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Pullman; and a Tesla, priced at a measly $100,000 – presumably bought as an olive branch to help Musk out of a tight spot.

Bugatti Chiron

On the water and in the air: Outside the garage, things get even more exciting...

Arnault owned a 70m (230ft) superyacht in the form of a converted research vessel, Amadeus, which he sold in 2015 before upgrading to his current 101.5m (333ft) yacht, Symphony – built in the Netherlands, in 2015, it was refitted, in 2022, by Feadship. The cost was around $150m, with room for 20 guests and an annual running bill of $10–15m.

Symphony superyacht, by Feadship

Until recently – October, 2022 – Arnault was also a master of the skies, flying about in his $73m Bombardier Global 7500 private jet (well, technically, LVMH’s private jet), which was sold after Twitter users began tracking its whereabouts. These days, Arnault has been reduced to renting private jets instead, although, given his new status as the world’s richest man, perhaps he’ll treat himself to a new set of wings.

Properties: Of course, it would be incredibly gauche for a billionaire to own just one home.

Accordingly, Arnault and his wife have a place close to the Latin Quarter and St. Germain-des-Prés, on Paris’s artistic Left Bank, reportedly worth $200m, as well as numerous properties in Saint-Tropez, on the French Riviera.

Bernard Arnault’s Paris home

Located in the gated community of Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez, Arnault’s home enclave on the coast made headlines after reports revealed that its president set up a coronavirus testing site for residents before tests were widely available in hospitals – which is awkward, to say the least.

Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez

Arnault also decided to splurge on $22m-worth of property in the Hamptons, last year. Located at 1 Main Street, his 5,000sq ft real estate was priced at $4,400 per square foot, the largest ever price per square foot in a commercial real-estate transaction in the Hamptons, Suffolk County and Nassau County history.

Arnault reportedly also owns residential properties in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and the Hollywood Hills; the Belmond Hotel and Cheval Blanc; and Indigo Island, in the Bahamas.

Cheval Blanc, Paris

Moreover, as a proud Parisian, Arnault can lay claim to a stake in one of the city’s most famous landmarks; following the Notre-Dame fire, LVMH pledged around $226m to help with the restorations.

On the wrist: No luxury portfolio is complete without a few high-end timepieces.

LVMH has ten watch brands on its books, including TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith, as well as the likes of Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton and Dior, which also produce watches – all of which is looked after by Frédéric.

Image: the Instagram page of @frederic.arnault

As for Arnault senior’s own collection, his timepiece of choice is the Tiffany Patek Philippe Nautilus 5740. Combining elements of the Tiffany Patek Philippe 5711 and the Nautilus Perpetual Calendar 5740, this creation is incredibly rare, with an earlier model being auctioned for $6.5m – more than 120 times its original retail price – in 2021.

Notable are its Tiffany turquoise dial with black-and-white hour markers; its hands inspired by the 5711; and the black perpetual calendar sub-dial lettering and moon phase window borrowed from the 5740.

Arnault has also been spotted sporting the stainless-steel Louis Vuitton Tambour, with a blue dial, which retails at a comparatively modest £17,500.

And what next?

As for the future, perhaps Arnault will invest in his own fleet of spaceships, so that he doesn’t have to deal with Bezos, Richard Branson, et al; buy his own F1 team; or turn the entirety of Paris’s Left Bank into an open-air art gallery.

Or maybe, as reports suggest, now having finally become the richest man on Earth, Arnault is ready to hand the baton to the next generation. With $209.5bn to our name and all the free Champagne we can drink, there are certainly a few things we could do…

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