Delphine Arnault, LVMH heiress steps up at Dior

As the Louis Vuitton crew put the finishing touches on 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 Champs-Elysees flagship store, but Delphine Arnault, the 47-year-old daughter of billionaire LVMH owner and Louis Vuitton’s No. 2 CEO, wanted to make sure the launch was perfect.

Nicolas Ghesquière, Louis Vuitton’s creative director who has worked closely with Arnault for more than a decade, said the 11pm visit was exemplary for its attention to detail. “When she’s designing, she already has a vision of what the product will look like in the boutique,” he says. “She’s more demanding than most people, but I find that reassuring because I know she’ll make sure my ideas get to market as is.”

It is easy to dismiss Delphine Arnaud because the other heir was initiated into the ranks by their father. Bernard Arnault He built LVMH into a behemoth, making it the world’s 12th-largest company by market capitalization and placing his family near the top of the world’s richest list.

On Wednesday, he promoted his daughter to CEO of Dior, LVMH’s second-largest brand with sales of about 8 billion euros last year, according to Citi, excluding fragrances and cosmetics. It’s a huge step forward, suggesting that the patriarch believes Arno has proven herself since joining the company in her mid-twenties.

You will take over thriving Business – Pietro Beccari, its predecessor, has tripled its sales since 2018 and the brand has an elite following from Shanghai to New York. Her nomination also catapulted her into the largest running role of any of Arno’s five children, all of whom work on the set. To date, she is the only one to participate in the 14-member executive committee.

Family ownership remains common in the luxury sector, as do questions about how successfully future generations will carry out the business they inherited. Those are always in the background at LVMH, although Bernard Arnault, 73, has no intention of retiring anytime soon. Last year, corporate bylaws raised the minimum age for CEOs from 75 to 80.

Right now, says one analyst, “investors don’t feel very well about it.” But people who know Delphine Arnaud Be careful not to underestimate it. They say she has a knack for working with designers, an understanding of what products will work and how to market them and — most importantly for a company that makes most of its profits from leather goods — an eye for a successful handbag.

Quietly spoken and protective of her personal life, Arnaud lived in New York as a child — a big change from the family’s previous home in the industrial town of Roubaix in northern France. This taught her adaptability and left her speaking English with almost no accent.

She later graduated from Edhec Business School in France and the London School of Economics, before learning the luxury ropes from Sidney Toledano and Michael Burke, two of LVMH’s top executives. From 2001 to 2013, she worked under Toledano at Dior, starting at shoes and then progressing to deputy general manager, where she is credited with smoothing over the fallout from John Galliano’s scandalous departure in 2011.

Making surprise visits to shops is something Bernard Arnault often does and in this, and in other respects, Delphine is her father’s daughter. People who know them say they share a natural and direct authority, as well as a strong ambition, though she never displays it publicly. They also share a passion for art and art collecting.

“There’s a special bond — she’s his only daughter and 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 pressure her covertly as a way to gain support for a new venture or major hire.

Arnault has also played a key role in recruiting the technical directors who bring LVMH’s brands to life. Her additions to the stable include Raf Simons at Dior, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe and Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton. In 2014, it created the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, a global talent search, with the winner receiving a €300,000 scholarship and a year of mentorship.

“It intimidates designers at first, but it has that listening quality that makes it surprisingly approachable and approachable,” says Isabella Capes Galliota, who has worked on the award since its inception.

Others say she has a calm managerial style and seeks to build consensus rather than force decisions. When she first began working on new handbag ideas with Ghesquière, she joined him sitting on the workshop floor while he tried on different pieces of leather and fabric. “It was surprising . . . but it was so natural,” he recalls.

Outside of work, she has two children with billionaire Xavier Neal. A dedicated art collector, she sits on the board of the Gagosian Art Gallery with Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, who is a family friend. “She was really into the L.A. art scene, so we’d go visit artists together when she was in town,” he says. “She’s really interested in the creative process herself, and loves seeing the 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 best-selling Capucines handbag. As is typical for the Arno family, work is never far away.

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

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