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April 25, 2021

LVMH: The Civil Savage

The luxury conglomerate needs to secure its future.

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The tumble of voices falls silent. 

The lights come up.  

Bulbs illume a long, gleaming catwalk as a bubbly song fills the air. It takes a moment to place it despite the familiarity of the melody. A cover of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” stripped of its sorrow, sugared into an electronic confection. 

A lank, miserable figure saunters down the stage, hands in her pocket. Hair balled and puffed to one side — a second head — she wears a white vest, a delicate scarf, a glistening, belt-like necklace. 

And newspaper. 

Her trousers, baggy, but fastened with a studiously casual cordon, are made entirely of paper, broadsheets crafted for a narrow body. 

Taken together the vision is striking: a peek into a glamorous, imagined demi-monde; comely agony. 

That was precisely what John Galliano had wanted. As he told a gobsmacked press after the 2000 show, he’d been inspired by his encounters with Paris’s homeless, passing them as he ran along the Seine. 

Some of these people are like impresarios, their coats worn over their shoulders and their hats worn at a certain angle. It's fantastic.

Fantastic, perhaps, but witless, too. Can genius be moronic? Anyone that heard the plan for a luxury brand to take inspiration from the homeless should have recognized the noisome condescension of the extremely wealthy aping, romanticizing the poor. Miniature bottles of liquor jangled alongside spoons and at models' waists; cigarette burns mottled fabric. 

(Zoolander would brilliantly lampoon the absurdity of Galliano’s collection just a year later with the titular character modeling “Derelicte,” a line from the film’s villain Mugatu, “inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.”)

Whatever controversy it stoked, it didn’t matter; Galliano’s collection was a smash. As the designer gloated, “'One can't go into a restaurant without hearing fantastic young ladies talking about the fraying of tulle of the Christian Dior show.” Within a year, Dior had turned his fragile newsprint pantaloons into a commercially successful fabric collection.

It could only have happened at the conglomerate for which Galliano worked: LVMH. Forged from a trio of luxury brands in the late-1980s, LVMH has matured into the undisputed leader of luxury under the stewardship of CEO Bernard Arnault. It has done so animated by a uniquely artist-led philosophy, respect for heritage craftsmanship, and a knack for managing generational change. With creativity (and the creator economy) playing a more prominent role in the tech sector, LVMH’s wisdom feels particularly applicable. 

The company will need to draw on all of those talents over the next ten years. As the singular Arnault traverses his eighth decade, couture is captivated by new fashions, and competitors jockey to take a pop at the champ, LVMH’s future looks uncertain for the first time in thirty years. 

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In today’s briefing, we’ll explore: 

  1. LVMH’s contentious formation
  2. The company’s decentralized “Maison” structure
  3. The extraordinary philosophy guiding the business
  4. Threats to another generation of excellence

The Rise of Arnault 

The first thing to know about Bernard Arnault is this: you must never invite him in. Like the fox that charms his way into the henhouse or the business world’s Babadook, the Frenchman has mastered the art of gaining access, then pressing his advantage. As the man himself once said, “in business, the secret is to seize opportunities.”

The world’s fourth-richest man has done so better than just about anyone else. Over the past half a century, Arnault has shown the ruthlessness, cunning, and vision to turn moments of uncertainty into defining triumphs. 

It is a story almost Shakespearean in its intrigue. 

Thank you for joining!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.


The tumble of voices falls silent. 

The lights come up.  

Bulbs illume a long, gleaming catwalk as a bubbly song fills the air. It takes a moment to place it despite the familiarity of the melody. A cover of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” stripped of its sorrow, sugared into an electronic confection. 

A lank, miserable figure saunters down the stage, hands in her pocket. Hair balled and puffed to one side — a second head — she wears a white vest, a delicate scarf, a glistening, belt-like necklace. 

And newspaper. 

Her trousers, baggy, but fastened with a studiously casual cordon, are made entirely of paper, broadsheets crafted for a narrow body. 

Taken together the vision is striking: a peek into a glamorous, imagined demi-monde; comely agony. 

That was precisely what John Galliano had wanted. As he told a gobsmacked press after the 2000 show, he’d been inspired by his encounters with Paris’s homeless, passing them as he ran along the Seine. 

Some of these people are like impresarios, their coats worn over their shoulders and their hats worn at a certain angle. It's fantastic.

Fantastic, perhaps, but witless, too. Can genius be moronic? Anyone that heard the plan for a luxury brand to take inspiration from the homeless should have recognized the noisome condescension of the extremely wealthy aping, romanticizing the poor. Miniature bottles of liquor jangled alongside spoons and at models' waists; cigarette burns mottled fabric. 

(Zoolander would brilliantly lampoon the absurdity of Galliano’s collection just a year later with the titular character modeling “Derelicte,” a line from the film’s villain Mugatu, “inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.”)

Whatever controversy it stoked, it didn’t matter; Galliano’s collection was a smash. As the designer gloated, “'One can't go into a restaurant without hearing fantastic young ladies talking about the fraying of tulle of the Christian Dior show.” Within a year, Dior had turned his fragile newsprint pantaloons into a commercially successful fabric collection.

It could only have happened at the conglomerate for which Galliano worked: LVMH. Forged from a trio of luxury brands in the late-1980s, LVMH has matured into the undisputed leader of luxury under the stewardship of CEO Bernard Arnault. It has done so animated by a uniquely artist-led philosophy, respect for heritage craftsmanship, and a knack for managing generational change. With creativity (and the creator economy) playing a more prominent role in the tech sector, LVMH’s wisdom feels particularly applicable. 

The company will need to draw on all of those talents over the next ten years. As the singular Arnault traverses his eighth decade, couture is captivated by new fashions, and competitors jockey to take a pop at the champ, LVMH’s future looks uncertain for the first time in thirty years. 

In today’s briefing, we’ll explore: 

  1. LVMH’s contentious formation
  2. The company’s decentralized “Maison” structure
  3. The extraordinary philosophy guiding the business
  4. Threats to another generation of excellence

The Rise of Arnault 

The first thing to know about Bernard Arnault is this: you must never invite him in. Like the fox that charms his way into the henhouse or the business world’s Babadook, the Frenchman has mastered the art of gaining access, then pressing his advantage. As the man himself once said, “in business, the secret is to seize opportunities.”

The world’s fourth-richest man has done so better than just about anyone else. Over the past half a century, Arnault has shown the ruthlessness, cunning, and vision to turn moments of uncertainty into defining triumphs. 

It is a story almost Shakespearean in its intrigue. 

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