All eyes were on Delphine Arnault at the Christian Dior runway show last week in Paris, as she took a front-row seat between David Beckham and Robert Pattinson. The 47-year-old was easy to spot among the celebrity guests in a scarlet equestrian-inspired jacket from the house’s latest resort collection, befitting her new brand allegiance.
Only a few weeks earlier, the executive and oldest child of LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault — aka the richest man in the world, with a net worth of more than $170 billion — was anointed with a shiny new job. After nearly a decade as a top executive at Louis Vuitton, Delphine will soon become the CEO of Dior, the second-largest brand in her father’s luxury empire. It marks the highest-level operational role ever filled by one of the luxury tycoon’s five children and raises the “Succession”-like question of who will one day take over the family business. Which, in this case, happens to be the world’s largest luxury conglomerate.
In recent years, the next generation of Arnaults has taken on increased roles in the business they were born to dominate. Bernard entered the luxury market in the 1980s and came to dominate the shrewd market through aggressive acquisitions and careful brand management. Today, his portfolio includes Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, Fendi and Givenchy; Tiffany & Co., Bulgari and TAG Heuer; as well as high-end spirits, chains of luxury hotel properties and other lucrative business lines that generate around $70 billion a year in revenue.
“This business is run for the next generation — they think like a family,” Erwan Rambourg, global head of consumer and retail research at HSBC, told The Post. “They think for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Bernard is 73 years old, but he shows no interest in stepping away from his luxury empire nor relinquishing his roles as executive chairman and chief executive. LVMH shareholders recently extended the company’s working age limit to 80, and many expect Bernard will never retire.
He has long made clear in interviews that control of the family business will remain in the family — with responsibilities doled out according to each child’s abilities. But the question of who will inherit his leadership position is said to be an uncouth topic within the business. And despite the recent promotions, industry watchers agree there isn’t a clear successor yet.
A representative for LVMH declined to comment on any succession plans.
The next decade will be a defining test for Bernard’s children in terms of who will emerge as the most capable inheritor of their father’s influence and control. In addition to Delphine, Bernard’s children include sons Antoine, 45; Alexandre, 30; Frédéric, 28; and Jean, 24.
The choice of a successor may also come down to temperament. Delphine and Frédéric have been described as more competitive, while Antoine and Alexandre are more
gregarious. But all the children have been training to succeed in the family business since they were young.
“I feel like I’ve been in an MBA since [I was] born because every lunch or dinner conversation is probably about the business,” said Alexandre during a talk at Oxford University last year. “There is pressure, of course, but it’s also only if I meet the expectations.”
The eldest son, Antoine, cuts a glamorous figure alongside his Russian supermodel wife, Natalia Vodianova. He and Delphine are the children of Bernard and ex-wife Anne Dewavrin. Like his sister, Antoine has worked for the family business since the early to mid-2000s. He is currently the head of the conglomerate’s communications strategy, with a special focus on Louis Vuitton, and a leader at some of its smaller labels, including Berluti and Loro Piana. He is also the face of LVMH’s sustainability efforts and, in December, was named the CEO of one of the family’s holding companies through which it owns LVMH, adding to his varied responsibilities.
The three youngest brothers, children from Bernard’s second marriage to Canadian pianist Hélène Mercier, have followed into the business over the last decade, assuming executive roles at major LVMH brands. And they’ve ascended quickly.
Frédéric is said to be most like his father and is the only one to have followed Bernard’s path to top French science and engineering university École Polytechnique. He was named CEO at TAG Heuer at juust 25 years old.
Alexandre, whose wedding to designer Géraldine Guyot in Venice in 2021 was attended by the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Roger Federer, appears to be the most American of his siblings — fluent in startup language that also befits his position as the first millennial Arnault heir. Two years ago, he moved to New York to become the executive vice president of products and communication at Tiffany & Co., newly acquired after an ugly legal battle over the terms of the deal.
He and Frédéric have embraced crypto, despite their father’s skepticism for the metaverse, and are proud owners of Cryptopunk and Bored Ape NFTs.
Youngest brother Jean has followed Frédéric’s interest in timepieces and is the head of marketing and development of watches at Louis Vuitton since 2021.
Despite the abundance of wealth, power and influence that comes with being the heirs of the richest man in the world, the Arnault siblings have notably avoided scandal and controversy that often plagues families atop business empires. There are no black sheep here.
Once they join the company ranks, their father often pairs them with seasoned executives who mentor and monitor them. For example, former TAG Heuer CEO Stéphane Bianchi told the New York Times he worked closely with Frédéric at the watch brand and advised his father when he was ready to take the top role there in 2020.
Instead of posting pictures of themselves in private jets or private islands on social media, the children’s accounts focus on their latest projects for their various brands and simple family photos. They reveal glimpses of their personal passions (for Alexandre, running in the New York City Marathon; for Antoine, playing golf). Even the youngest, Jean, is in a long-term romantic relationship, with a posh young French woman Zita d’Hauteville.
Bernard’s children have also picked up many of their father’s interests, including high-end art collecting and playing piano (Alexandre and Frédéric are noted for their concert-level talent, probably also encouraged by their mother’s talent). The children share their father’s passion for tennis, too, frequently squaring off against him or sitting together courtside at Roland Garros.
Indeed, a love of competition is in their blood. Their father has a reputation for aggressive dealmaking, having built the LVMH by often leveraging dissent within family-owned businesses — earning him the epithet “the wolf in cashmere clothing.” Famously, he exploited a disagreement between the top two executives at LVMH that allowed him to take control of the group and oust the Louis Vuitton family in 1989.
The children grew up visiting LVMH brands’ stores on the weekends with their father, as well as those of competitors, as part of their father’s unwavering obsession with strengthening his empire. Delphine, who was often consulted about the design of upcoming products by her father as a teenager, was gifted her first Louis Vuitton bag, the Noé bucket style, at age 18. The boys had their own version of the privileged coming-of-age milestone: Frédéric and Jean received their first TAG Heuer watch at ages 11 and 15, respectively.
Within this context, something as simple as buying a suitcase from a non-LVMH brand counts as youthful rebellion. Alexandre said his purchase of a suitcase from the German luggage brand Rimowa raised eyebrows from his father but later led to LVMH acquiring the brand in 2017. Through hip product collaborations with the late designer Virgil Abloh and Supreme, Alexandre has led a brand overhaul that positioned Rimowa as the go-to suitcase for the global traveling elite.
Alexandre’s role at Tiffany’s, while not at the CEO level, comes with high stakes: The pressure is on to reinvigorate a business that came with a hefty $15.8 billion acquisition price. Despite early signs of progress, the turnaround is ongoing.
His impact is best seen in Tiffany’s high-profile 2021 campaign with two celebrities he considers longtime friends: Jay-Z and Beyoncé. The advertising stunt drew some controversy because it featured Tiffany’s yellow diamond necklace, worn by Beyoncé, which raised questions about the ethics of the origins of the South African jewel as well as the use of a Basquiat painting in the ad. But the campaign generated ample headlines, and Tiffany’s collaboration with Beyoncé continued in 2022.
Delphine, who spent the last decade in a top role at Louis Vuitton, is described as more guarded than her siblings. She is not public on social media and rarely speaks about her private life or two children with her current partner, the French tech billionaire Xavier Niel. (The approach contrasts with her first wedding, to Italian wine heir Alessandro Vallarino Gancia in 2005, which was heralded by tabloids as the event of the season. They quietly divorced five years later.)
Likewise, Delphine’s tenure at Dior comes at a critical time for the fast-growing luxury house. Its business has transformed in recent years. Its revenue quadrupled since 2018 to more than $9 billion under its most recent CEO, Pietro Beccari, whom Arnault has appointed to lead the group’s largest and most important brand, Louis Vuitton.
But her father has faith.
“[Delphine’s position as CEO of Dior] is an extremely high-pressure role,” said a fashion insider, “and there’s no way he would have put her there if he didn’t think she could handle it.”