Hélène and Bernard Arnault
Luxury goods (LVMH)
Holding some of the world’s most high-priced luxury goods companies as part of the conglomerate LVMH, Bernard Arnault and his wife, Hélène, are the wealthiest couple listed in the Top 200 Collectors. In its index of billionaires, Bloomberg reported Arnault’s fortune as the third largest worldwide (with total assets around $150 billion), just behind those of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.
Arnault has frequently turned to artists for help in designing new products for some of his high-end brands, asking the likes of Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami to make highly coveted handbags for Louis Vuitton, and Jeff Koons to create special-edition packaging for Dom Perignon.
In 2014 his Fondation Louis Vuitton inaugurated a $135 million Frank Gehry–designed museum in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, in a building that formerly housed the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions, which closed in 2005. His collection is rich in postwar and contemporary art and leans heavily blue-chip, with artists such as Damien Hirst, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. For the foundation’s opening, artist Sarah Morris created a film about the Frank Gehry building.
In 2018, the Museum of Modern Art in New York lent the Fondation Louis Vuitton more than 200 works (including pieces by Paul Cézanne, Marcel Duchamp, and Yvonne Rainer) for a blockbuster exhibition that attracted over 750,000 visitors. That same year the Fondation Vuitton also staged acclaimed retrospectives of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele. The foundation organizes exhibitions outside of France as well, in Munich, Beijing, and Venice.
Arnault has a well-documented rivalry with François Pinault, a fellow owner of luxury goods brands and Top 200 collector. Over the years they have gone head-to-head in both the art and business sectors, in incidents that have become known as the handbag war. In 2008, they bid against each other for two works by French artist Yves Klein at Sotheby’s. In 2018, fashion designer Stella McCartney announced that she was parting ways with Pinault’s conglomerate, Kering; then in July 2019, McCartney revealed she had struck a deal to join LVMH. And after the conflagration at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris this past April, Pinault and his family committed €100 million (about $113 million) toward its rebuilding and restoration efforts. Hours later, Arnault and LVMH announced a contribution of €200 million ($226 million) to Notre-Dame’s recovery.