There is a new Arnault in town
Meet Alexandre Arnault, the eldest son of the second marriage of Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, and the chairman and key shareholder of LVMH. Which just happens to be the largest luxury conglomerate ever assembled. Anywhere.
Though still only 24, Alexandre has been named joint-CEO of Rimowa. It’s the most famous baggage brand ever created in Germany, in which LVMH acquired an 80-percent stake last October for 640 million euros.
The acquisition brings to over 80 the number of international brands owned by LVMH. Matter of fact, it would hard for any self-respecting person to spend a day without consuming something by LVMH. Seeing as its labels include everything from Louis Vuitton luggage, Christian Dior couture, Fendi furs, Guerlain perfumes, Hennessy brandy, Belvedere vodka, one quarter of all French champagne and the beauty retailing giant Sephora.
We caught up with Alexandre at the official opening of Rimowa’s Paris flagship, when everyone from his Karl Lagerfeld to Bella Hadid came by to celebrate the mammoth boutique spread over four floors opposite the Bristol Hotel. The goal - to find out a little more about Alexandre, one of five smart children born to the Lord of Luxury, known more often by his initials BA.
Moreover, everyone on fashion planet could not help noticing that when father Bernard Arnault went to see Donald Trump in his 5th Avenue tower on January 9, he brought along Alexandre. So, this is Arnault number two son on his plans for his first major executive position; his move to Germany; meeting Trump and why LVMH bought Rimowa.
“We bought this brand for several reasons; first of all, the brand itself. We know it well. I have been a client for a long time. It’s a brand that represents all the criteria that LVMH looks for in a brand. It has a great heritage. It is obsessed with quality – we make everything chez nous, in our own ateliers and factories. In terms of savoir-faire, it is very innovative and creative. We invented the first ever case in aluminum back in 1937 and last year we invented a new polycarbonate case,” explained the lanky Alexandre, standing beside a video of a limited edition vintage plane.
“We did that ourselves. It took us seven years. It’s a Junkers F13, which had not flown since 1919. There are only four of them left in various museums. Dieter Morszeck decided to rebuild it. That’s him, the pilot, taking the plane on its first flight in September, last year,” says Alexandre rather proudly.
Alexandre and Dieter Morszeck will share the title co-CEO. Dieter is the third generation to have managed the house founded back in 1898. Dieter’s own son did not enter the family firm. “My own son is an agricultural engineer. So, I think of Alexandre as the fourth generation,” the German gent smiled genially.
Rimowa are currently applying via the Federal Aviation Authority for a full license for their elegant aluminum plane.
What does he expect LVMH will bring to Rimowa?
“Many things. All of our media and real estate network for starters. All the talent in a group with 130,000 employees. Supplementary savoir-faire. Today we use aluminum and polycarbonate. Tomorrow, we could master leather or other materials. All this expertise in an exchange with our other brands. And, I believe Rimowa can teach us a thing or two. Their expertise in making aluminum bags that are the lightest and most mobile on the market. Rimowa is a very logical fit in LVMH,” he insisted. Last year, Rimowa linked up with Lufthansa to launch the Rimowa Electronic Tag. This feature simplifies baggage check-in by matching, with the use of a smartphone, the boarding card with a Bluetooth electronic tag integrated within Rimowa suitcases.
Though his father meets heads of states on a regular basis, Alexandre is still relatively low profile. He has no Wikipedia page. He began with a classical preparation in the famous Jesuit college of Louis Le Grand, behind the Pantheon, before going to Polytechnique (a top French university), and a first internship at Telecom Paris.
“Besides that, well, you know my father and family. I spent many Saturdays in our different brands’ boutiques. My vacations often involved visiting stores in other countries. With the occasional afternoon off for a little culture,” he grins. “So, I had a long time to familiarize myself with the LVMH group. Plus, I had various internships abroad, chez McKinsey and with KKR (the private equity firm) in New York,” stresses Alexandre, who speaks good English.
Last year, he spent six months in Rome with Fendi, “learning how to manage a brand from 360 degrees,” and reporting to Pietro Beccari, the outstanding LVMH executive who has overseen whirlwind growth ever since taking over at Fendi.
Alexandre has also frequently accompanied papa Arnault to Silicon Valley. Notably, the pair headed north to San Francisco on the day after Louis Vuitton’s epic space-age cruise runway show in Palm Spring back in May 2016.
“Look, I am a millennial, so digital is in my blood. Plus, I studied computer science with France Telecom. It’s a world that fascinates me. I’ve done programming and built Apps. Within my own family, they asked me to take care of the investments of Groupe Arnault – our family holding - in technology. And, I’ve invested in many tech companies and quite a few start-ups,” he stressed, listing Airbnb, Huber and Spotify.
“So, I have also met plenty of entrepreneurs, and often gone to the West Coast. My father is very interested in all this. You know he loves very much the Internet. And with him I’ve met many of the more established leaders in the sector.”
What did he and his father discuss with Trump, one wondered?
“Ahh… You had better ask him that!”
Well, wasn’t their idea that LVMH would open up production facilities, satisfying Trump’s plan to bring plants and jobs back to the USA?
“As far as I understood, that would be Louis Vuitton. So, it’s better you ask Michael Burke (Vuitton CEO). I would not like to announce something ahead of him doing it.”
Though certainly blessed with a brilliant CV and an excellent luxury training, his appointment as CEO did raise eyebrows. Questions about nepotism, especially after a man so rich as Arnault names his 24-year-old to be boss of recently acquired label, were raised.
“I have plenty of reactions to that. The first is to say that we have always been very entrepreneurial in LVMH. My father is a symbol of French entrepreneurship. I think that giving me this chance will help me to become an entrepreneur as well. And, I won’t be alone. Dieter will remain as co-CEO and he has been coming to the office every day So, that’s a real partnership – hand-in-hand. Thirdly, it’s also a chance for the brand to have someone pretty young in charge. Someone who brings in some innovative ideas – notably in terms of digital technology,” adds Alexandre, who after 15 years of study speaks good German and has already moved to Cologne, hometown of Rimowa.
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