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Luxury Fortunes Jump $93 Billion on Demand Boom for Hermès, Dior

Five multigenerational luxury companies saw a sales increase thanks to demand in the Chinese market.
Hermès is considering using the metaverse for communications.
Five multigenerational luxury companies saw a sales increase thanks to demand in the Chinese market. (Shutterstock)

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’Oréal, 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, jeweller Tiffany & Co. and Moet & Chandon Champagne. Arnault’s wealth has risen from $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 Hermès 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.

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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’Oréal, LVMH and Kering.

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’Oréal 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 percent.

L’Oréal’s luxury division sells brands like Lancôme, 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.

Bernard Arnault

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.

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The Hermès Family

The six generations of relatives behind Hermès International, founded in 1837 by horse harness maker Thierry Hermès, still control about 67 percent 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 percent jump in shares this year fueled by demand for its Birkin and Kelly handbags.

Descendants still hold 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 the holding structure Emile Hermès SAS.

Francois Pinault

The fortune of Kering’s 86-year-old founder has climbed a relatively modest 24 percent 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 chief executive officer since 2005 and in February, expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s performance. Kering reports quarterly numbers on April 25. The family’s holding company, Financière Pinault, owns the 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 have included the fashion house’s sought-after flap bags, jewellery and makeup. Their net worth has climbed 16 percent 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.

By Tara Patel, Angelina Rascouet and Jack Witzig

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