PARIS, France — The French luxury industry, which to some degree trades in the nation’s cultural heritage, is funnelling its riches to save a historic monument.
The families behind luxury groups LVMH and Kering, two of France's largest companies, have pledged to donate a combined €300 million to help rebuild historic Notre-Dame, the 856-year-old cathedral, which survived two world wars, but was devastated by fire Monday night.
Kering chief executive Francois-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father, Francois Pinault, said around midnight local time that they would donate €100 million via the family investment vehicle Artemis to help finance repairs to the building, which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1991.
“It is a tragedy that touched us all," Francois-Henri Pinault said in a phone interview Tuesday morning with French radio station Europe 1. "I saw my 17-year-old daughter cry in front of the images. It deeply moved me and my father, so we wanted to react right away."
Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of rival luxury group LVMH, followed the gesture with a pledge of €200 million.
It is important that we are united around this symbol... It is our culture and our national pride.
“The Arnault family and the LVMH Group, in solidarity with this national tragedy are committed to assist with the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, symbol of France, its heritage and its unity," LVMH said in a statement on Tuesday. "They will donate a total sum of €200 million to the fund dedicated to the reconstruction of this architectural work, which is a core part of the French history."
LVMH employees will also serve as volunteers — "including creative, architectural and financial specialists" — to support the reconstruction of the cathedral, which is already in progress.
The donations reflect Kering and LVMH's outsized role in French culture as well as a kind of corporate responsibility to the society. While the damage to Notre-Dame is unprecedented, both empires have shown their commitment to cultural preservation in the past.
For instance, in October 2017, LVMH led a crowdfunding campaign to acquire the Book of Hours of King François, which is now part of the Louvre museum collection. Last year, Francois Pinault donated €3 million to the house in Guernsey where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables after Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city could not afford to pay for the necessary renovations. Victor Hugo is also the author of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”
"It is important that we are united around this symbol," said Francois-Henri Pinault. "It is our culture and our national pride."
Updated 3:00 pm GMT on 16 April, 2019:
Later on Tuesday, French cosmetics conglomerate L'Oreal, the biggest beauty company in the world, announced that it would donate €200 million in partnership with its longtime backers, the Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller foundation."
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