Alain Chevalier, one of the founders of the LVMH group, dies

On Sunday, the French President’s office announced the death of Alain Chevalier, 87, one of the two founders of the world’s number one luxury group, LVMH. Chevalier was a major industrialist who turned a champagne producer, in association with the Louis Vuitton group, into a leading international luxury group.


Alain Chevalier and Bernard Arnault - AFP

Alain Chevalier “put his intelligence and talent at the service of politics and industry and, through his vision and determination, he contributed to elevating France at the top of the luxury sector,” said the French President’s office in a press release, saluting Chevalier as “a visionary.”

In a message to the AFP agency, the LVMH group, currently encompassing 70 labels with 150,000 employees worldwide, hailed the “memory” of a “major industrialist.”

On Saturday, French daily paper Le Figaro reported that Chevalier died at his home in Megève, France, on November 1. Chevalier’s family indicated that the funeral service will be celebrated on Wednesday afternoon at the Saint-Clotilde basilica in Paris.

Chevalier was born on August 16 1931 in Algiers, where his family had lived since 1880. As the son of French colonialists in Algeria, “he was loyal to the last to the memory of his native land,” in the words of the President’s office. He studied law and political science before attending the prestigious ENA civil service school (as a member of the Vauban class), where he graduated in 1959.

An auditor at the national Court of Accounts, Chevalier worked in several roles within various ministries (Algerian Affairs, National Education and Industry), before leaving the civil service for private industry.

In 1970, Chevalier became the General Manager of Moët et Chandon, then France’s top champagne producer, with the goal of gradually transforming the long-established, Reims-based maison into a luxury goods group with a global reach. Working together with the company’s President Robert de Voguë, “things went very fast, we had all the luck,” said Chevalier in 1974.

Through a string of mergers and acquisitions (Hennessy cognac, the licence for the Christian Dior perfumes, the Roc cosmetics laboratories) Chevalier made the group a model of well-managed growth.

In 1987, to stave off a take-over threat, he merged the group, then called Moët Hennessy, with another luxury giant, Louis Vuitton, at the time headed by Henry Racamier, who died in 2003.

But this merger marked the end of the line for Chevalier’s managerial career. Indeed, he never held any shares, neither in Moët nor, later, in the LVMH group. Having no stake in LVMH, he was powerless to stop the advance of Bernard Arnault, who gradually became the group’s majority shareholder.

Management versus shareholders

Chevalier’s skill was management. “I had to stop working for several weeks, so great were the contrasts among shareholders,” he said when he left the group in 1989. “The time of the managers is past. Now, the shareholders are taking back control,” he added.

Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton, “which, already under [Chevalier’s] leadership, grouped together some of the most prestigious brands in the wine and spirits, fashion, perfumery and cosmetics industries, are wonderful ambassadors of French elegance and sophistication,” wrote the President’s office, adding that, “he was above all a man who believed in culture and freedom, loyal not simply to a person or party, but to what he believed was right and true.”

From 1979 to 1981, Chevalier was a board member of CNPF (the National Council of French Employers, later  replaced by the MEDEF employer federation) but he always refused to head it. In 1986, he also said ‘no’ to President Jacques Chirac, a fellow ENA student, who wanted him as Minister of Industry. Between 1989 and 1991, Chevalier was in charge of the Pierre Balmain fashion label.

Chevalier was fascinated by the history of ancient Rome, and was married and the father of four children.

Translated by Nicola Mira

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