Early Life & Education
Mister Bernard Jean Étienne Arnault was born on the 5th of March 1949 in Roubaix, France. His father, Jean Leon Arnault, was a manufacturer and the owner of civil engineering company Ferret-Savinel. After Mister Arnault’s graduation from the Maxence Van Der Meersch High School, he went on to study engineering at the École Polytechnique. He graduated with a degree in engineering in 1971.
Following his graduation, he joined Ferret-Savinel. The year was 1974 when he was named the director of company development and in 1976 Bernard convinced his father to liquidate the construction division of Ferret-Savinel for 40 million French francs and switch the company’s focus on real-estate. Under a new name, Férinel, the company developed an expertise in holiday accommodation. One year later Bernard Arnault became the new CEO of Férinel, and in 1979 he succeeded his father as owner of the company. The company did exceedingly well under the supervision of Bernard Arnault, building time shares along the French Riviera.
He then proceeded to acquire the struggling textile firm Broussac in the early 1980’s swiping up the brand Christian Dior in the process. His reasoning for making this $15 million purchase was to own the Dior label and firmly establish himself in the luxury brand market.
Bernard Arnault began building his empire by selling off divisions of the Broussac company that had nothing to do with his luxury business goals. He gained over $400 million in the process. This sale enabled Monsieur Arnault to buy his way into LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) in 1989, purchasing $1.8 billion in LVMH shares thus giving him 24% of the group. Monsieur Arnault went on to win a series of legal battles with the former chairman of LVMH, Henry Racamier. When Bernard Arnault gained control of the company he laid off a number of the managing executives in order to rebuild the company his way to meet his vision.
His vision was to shift the company’s focus to the new creative energies that were emerging from within France. He wanted to harness the creativity of the fashion world and bring it into the luxury marketplace. Part of the change for LVMH was the hiring of a new designer, John Galliano. Mr. Galliano was an up-and-coming designer with a keen eye for unusual creations, such as dresses being made entirely out of newspaper. The move represented a step in the direction of haute couture. Bernard Arnault realised that in order to get rid of the so called ‘boring’ or ‘out-dated’ fashion image he needed to hire someone who would bring in something new and refreshing, almost shocking the consumers with new found creativity. Bernard Arnault’s experience in business gave him the strength and knowledge he needed in order to rebuild LVMH and his training as a classical pianist gave him an understanding and appreciation for the creative arts. This combination provided Bernard Arnault with a strong and solid foundation on which to construct the future of the LVMH empire.
Throughout the 1990’s Monsieur Arnault and his company purchased a plethora of luxury-goods manufacturers. This strengthened his presence in Europe, North America, and Asia and eventually into South America and Australia. He added companies to his ‘collection’ such as Louis Vuitton luggage, Givenchy clothes and perfume, TAG Heuer watches, a cosmetics and beauty line at Sephora, and a magazine line, Art and Auction. Many of Bernard Arnault’s competitors initially told him that his company was getting too big and expanding too rapidly but soon after he had many companies trying to imitate him. For example, Gucci expressed a similar desire for the luxury-goods market in Italy as well as the owner of Cartier in Switzerland.
With the changing economies of the 21st century, Bernard Arnault found that much of the world did not have the desire for luxury brands like there has been in the past. As a result, some companies under the LVMH have struggled to generate revenue. However this has not swayed mister Arnault as he continues to focus on quality and luxury while downsizing some of his brands and stores. Despite any financial problems, Bernard Arnault has still managed to keep a firm grip on some of the world’s best-known luxury brands.
In 2006, Bernard Arnault started to build the project of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, dedicated to contemporary art. The building was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. The Foundation's grand opening at the Jardin d'Acclimatation was held on October 20th, 2014.