Luxury fortunes jump $93 billion on demand boom for Hermes, Dior
A global shopping splurge on luxury goods and beauty products is making some of the world’s richest people even richer.
Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, 69, the wealthiest woman on the planet, is the latest French billionaire to benefit from the spending spree. Her fortune rose to $93.3 billion on Thursday, a $21.8 billion jump since the start of the year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after L’Oreal, the makeup and skincare empire founded by her grandfather, reported strong revenue growth that sent the shares to a record high.
Her gains follow those of Bernard Arnault, the world’s richest person who built LVMH into a 75-brand fashion juggernaut including couture house Christian Dior, jeweler Tiffany & Co. and Moet & Chandon Champagne. Arnault’s wealth has risen $48.6 billion to $210.7 billion in 2023 as the company he controls sold more pricey handbags, cosmetics and fine wines, fueling stellar returns.
A lesser known but equally significant jump in wealth in recent months is that of the French family behind Hermes International, another leading purveyor of extravagance whose silk scarves and leather goods rival those of LVMH. The sixth-generation clan is worth an estimated $157 billion, up from $95 billion in October.
The growing accumulation of wealth by the clutch of French company founders and heirs — a jump of $93 billion this year alone — illustrates the country’s increasing global dominance of the luxury and beauty industry. Two other family fortunes have also swelled: the Wertheimer brothers, who own closely held Chanel — famous for tweed suits and No. 5 perfume — and Francois Pinault, founder of Gucci-owner Kering SA.
All five multigenerational companies were created in France and built up through expansion into international markets including China, which is proving to be lucrative terrain for designer labels. Acquisitions over the decades also fueled growth at L’Oreal, LVMH and Kering.
Also read: Luxury’s Growing Hold on Paris Market Brings Risks
Here’s a closer look at some of the ultra-rich French individuals and families who have benefited from the growing appetite among the well-heeled for personal grooming products and expensive clothes:
Francoise Bettencourt Meyers
The reclusive heiress is the grandaughter of L’Oreal SA founder Eugène Schueller and vice chairwoman of the company’s board. Her sons Jean-Victor Meyers and Nicolas Meyers are also directors. Bettencourt Meyers and her family are the single biggest shareholders with a stake of almost 35%.
L’Oreal’s luxury division sells brands like Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent perfume, Helena Rubenstein and soon Aesop soaps, after reaching a $2.53 billion deal this month to buy the Australian firm. And sales are only expected to increase.
“A full recovery for beauty product consumption in China and a gradual recovery in Chinese travel spending will further drive the group’s top-line for the rest of the year,” AlphaValue analyst Jie Zhang wrote.
The discreet 74-year-old first reached the top of the Bloomberg wealth ranking at the end of last year, the first European to lay claim to having the world’s largest fortune. He has been consolidating his lead over Elon Musk amid rising sales at LVMH, which this month made it into the top 10 ranking of companies worldwide.
The focus on Arnault’s wealth has taken its toll on his reputation at home. Protesters waving flares briefly stormed the company’s Paris headquarters this month ahead of a demonstration against President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform. The company was among those targeted by opponents as symbols of capitalism.
The Hermes Family
The six generations of relatives behind Hermes International, founded in 1837 by horse harness maker Thierry Hermes, still control about 67% of the company. At a point when many dynastic fortunes have evaporated, the clan was ranked as the fifth-richest family in the world in October. That was before the 38% jump in shares this year fueled by demand for its Birkin and Kelly handbags.
Descendants still hold the power within the company, with Axel Dumas and Pierre-Alexis Dumas serving as executive chairman and artistic director, respectively, and Eric de Seynes heading the supervisory board. Another family member, Henri-Louis Bauer, is president of holding structure Emile Hermes SAS.
The fortune of Kering’s 86-year-old founder has climbed a relatively modest 24% to $44.3 billion since the start of the year. This partly reflects the controversy resulting from an advertising campaign for Balenciaga, one of its more than half-dozen labels. While flagship brand Gucci has seen tepid sales, Yves Saint Laurent was strong last year.
Pinault’s son, François-Henri, has been chairman and CEO since 2005 and in February expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s performance. Kering reports quarterly numbers April 25. The family’s holding company, Financière Pinault, owns auction house Christie’s and a contemporary art collection, vineyards, cruise line Compagnie du Ponant and French weekly magazine Le Point.
Alain and Gerard Wertheimer
The secretive French brothers who own Chanel have also benefited from the boom in spending on luxury goods that has included the fashion house’s sought-after flap bags, jewelry and makeup. Their net worth has climbed 16% this year to $100.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg wealth index.
London-headquartered Chanel has published annual financial accounts only since 2018. Mousse Investments Ltd., the brothers’ holding company, is based in the Cayman Islands, while their family office, Mousse Partners, has been run for more than two decades by half-brother Charles Heilbronn. The firm is investing in Rothschild & Co. to help take the bank private.