Henri-Francois Pinault (the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering) and Bernard Arnault (the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of LVMH) are two of the most recognizable names and faces in the business of fashion world. Unlike the heads of Kering and LVMH, the luxury conglomerates that own Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton, CELINE, Givenchy, and Dior - respectively - the men in charge at Chanel, aside from Karl Lagerfeld, are far less publicly-known figures.
Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, the billionaire brothers that have owned Chanel for over 30 years, have shied from the public eye for the most part. They sit third or fourth row at the brand's fashion week shows, and go largely unnoticed according to most reports. While little is known about the brothers, we do know this: They have a combined fortune of $19.2 billion.
They each own half of Chanel. They also own three French vineyards, including Chateau Rauzan-Segla, and Wertheimer et Frere, one of the world’s top horse racing and breeding operations. The brothers (pictured after the break below) have guided the family business for 39 years and are the third generation to run the 100+ year old company, which has been valued at $18.5 billion.
Alain Wertheimer and Gerard Wertheimer, are the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of the couturière Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, herself. In 1924, Pierre Wertheimer entered into an agreement with Coco Chanel to create "Parfums Chanel." For a seventy percent share of the company, the Wertheimers agreed to provide full financing for production, marketing and distribution of Chanel No. 5. Théophile Bader (founder of the Paris department store, Galeries Lafayette) was given a twenty percent share.
Gerard, 61, is based in Geneva and serves as chairman of Chanel’s watch division. Alain, 64, lives in New York and is chairman of Chanel, credited with resurrecting the brand when he took over operational control from his father in 1974. As for why the brothers are so under-the-radar, Gerard told the New York Times in February 2002: “We’re a very discreet family, we never talk. It’s about Coco Chanel. It’s about Karl. It’s about everyone who works and creates at Chanel. It’s not about the Wertheimers.”