In 1984, Bernard Arnault learned that Christian Dior was for sale. Its parent company Boussac had filed for bankruptcy and the French government was looking for a buyer for the ailing textile empire that owned a number of companies, including Paris-based fashion house Dior. As the story goes, the then-35-year old Arnault – who had spent the previous 10 years heading up the construction firm founded by his grandfather – took $15 million from his family, combined it with $45 million from French financial institution Lazard Frères, and purchased Boussac in a quest to get his hands on the famed French fashion house.

As the New York Times would write in December 1989, within two years of acquiring Boussac, “Arnault had pushed [the company] into the black, laying off 9,000 workers and selling off [its] disposable-diaper division and most of its textile operations for $500 million.” While that deal helped Arnault to “leapfrog from his family’s $15 million-a-year business to a company 20 times as large,” and earned him the title of “a force to reckon with in French business,” an ever acquisition was to follow: his 1990 spree to gain control of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, the merged fashion house and spirits company, in which Arnault first invested in the late 1980s.

Since then, Arnault – now 71 years old and the among the richest men in the world, according to Bloomberg’s running “Billionaires” list – has spent billions of dollars and worked doggedly to amass no less than 70 luxury brands under the umbrella of the group that is now coined LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton.

Reflecting on his idea to put so many luxury brands — including those competing with each other — under one roof, Arnault told CNBC in 2018, “In the 90s, I had the idea of a luxury group and at the time I was very much criticized for it. I remember people telling me it doesn’t make sense to put together so many brands. And it was a success … And for the last 10 years now, every competitor is trying to imitate, which is very rewarding for us. I think they are not successful but they try.”

Here is a look at the timeline behind the building of the world’s most valuable luxury goods conglomerate …

(Please note: the following is in no way exhaustive of the acquisitions and entities that exist in relation to LVMH, and instead, focuses exclusively on fashion and a few beauty and jewelry-related entities.)

1987: Louis Vuitton – Founded in France in 1854, Louis Vuitton became part of LVMH in 1987 when the conglomerate was created. Moët et Chandon and Hennessy, leading manufacturers of champagne and cognac, merged respectively with Louis Vuitton to form the luxury goods conglomerate.

1988: Givenchy – Founded in 1952, Givenchy, a couture and ready-to-wear brand, has been part of the LVMH Group since 1988. (For the full story of how Givenchy ended up under the LVMH umbrella, you can find that here.)

1993: Berluti – Founded in 1895 by Italian Alessandro Berluti, the men’s shoes, leather goods, and men’s ready-to-wear brand was acquired by LVMH in 1993.

1993: Kenzo – Founded in 1970, the womenswear and menswear brand was acquired by LVMH in 1993 for $80 million.

1994: Guerlain – The French perfume, cosmetics, and skincare brand, which is among the oldest in the world, was owned and managed by members of Guerlain family from its inception in 1828 to 1994, at which point it was acquired by LVMH.

1996: Céline – Founded in 1945, the Paris-based brand offers ready-to-wear items, leather goods, shoes and accessories. In 1987, Arnault bought into Céline’s capital, but it was only in 1996 that the brand was integrated into the LVMH Group for 2.7 billion French francs ($540 million).

1996: Loewe – The Spanish company created in 1846 was acquired by LVMH in 1996. Originally specializing in very high-quality leather work, today, Loewe offers leather goods and ready-to-wear.

1997: Marc Jacobs – LVMH has held a majority stake in the New York-based brand, which was founded in 1984, since 1997. Marc Jacobs, himself, became the creative director of womenswear for Louis Vuitton in 1997, staying until 2013, when he left to focus on his eponymous label.

1997: Sephora – The French cosmetics chain, which was founded in 1969, was brought under the LVMH umbrella in July 1997, and has since been expanded globally.

1999: Thomas Pink – Founded in 1984 and acquired by LVMH in 1999, Thomas Pink is a recognized specialist in high-end shirts in the U.K.  LVMH is understood to have paid around 30 million pounds to Thomas Pink’s owner, the Irish Mullen family, for two-thirds of the company.

1999: Tag Heuer – The Swiss company, which was founded in 1860, accepted a $739 million bid from LVMH in 1999 in exchange for 50.1 percent ownership.

1999: Gucci Group – On January 6, 1999, it publicly emerged that LVMH had acquired a 5 percent stake in Gucci. LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault was adamant that it was a passive stake and he had every intention of letting Gucci remain independent. Arnault increased LVMH’s stake to 34.4 percent by January 26, 1999.

In September 1999, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (which is now known as Kering) agreed to pay LVMH $806 million for the majority of stake in the Gucci Group. At the same time, LVMH announced plans to sell its remaining shares in Gucci, about 12 million, to a financial institution by year-end. (For a full look at LVMH’s unsuccessful fight for the Gucci Group, you can find that here.)

2000: Emilio Pucci – The Italian company, which was founded in Florence in 1947, was acquired by LVMH in 2000. LVMH paid an undisclosed sum for a 67 percent ownership stake. LVMH acquired the remaining 33 percent stake from the Pucci family for an undisclosed sum in June 2021.

2000: Rossimoda – The Italian fashion company was founded in 1977. LVMH took a minority stake in the company in 2000 and at a later date, acquired sole ownership.

2001: La Samaritaine – LVMH acquired acquired a 55 percent stake in iconic French department store La Samaritaine (and its real estate) in 2001 for €256 million. It increased its ownership stake to 100 percent in 2010. (Full a full look at LVMH’s fight for La Samaritaine, you can find that here.)

2001: Fendi – The Italian company, which was founded in Rome in 1925, has been part of the LVMH Group since 2000. In July 2000, LVMH – and Prada – both acquired ownership stakes in Fendi. In December 2001, LVMH bought Prada’s stake, increasing its share in Fendi to 51 percent. LVMH further increased its ownership stake to 84 percent in February 2003.

2001: DKNY –  In 2001, LVMH acquired an 89 percent stake in the New York-based brand, which was founded in 1984. LVMH sold the company to G-III Apparel Group in December 2016 for $650 million.

2001: Hermès – In 2001, LVMH acquired an initial stake in Hermès of 4.9 percent through subsidiaries, and continued to accumulate shares in its Paris-based rival by buying equity derivatives through financial intermediaries and subsidiaries, with each keeping holdings below 5 percent. In October 2010, LVMH announced (to much surprise in the market) that it had acquired a cumulative 14.2 percent stake and in December 2011, announced that raised its stake in Hermès to 22.6 percent, and then to 23.1 percent as of 2013.

Following the culmination of an investigation by the French financial services watchdog, Autorité des marchés financiers, which found that LVMH had secretly bought shares in rival Hermès to build a stake in the iconic design house, and not merely to make a financial investment as LVMH had claimed, and an intervention by a French court, LVMH announced that it would distribute its 23 percent stake in Hermès to its shareholders and institutional investors and agreed not to buy more shares in Hermès for the next five years.

LVMH’s shares in Hermès were fully distributed such that LVMH no longer held any Hermès shares as of December 31, 2015. (For a more in-depth look at the proceedings between LVMH and Hermès, you can find that here).

2009: EDUN – Founded by Ali Hewson and Bono in 2005 to promote fair trade in Africa by sourcing production throughout the continent, the founders sold 49 percent of the company to LVMH in May 2009. In June 2018, LVMH divested its minority stake in the brand back to its founders.

2010: Moynat – Groupe Arnault, LVMH’s CEO Bernard Arnault’s holding company bought Moynat, the 19th-century trunk-maker five years older than Louis Vuitton.

2011: Bulgari – Founded in 1884, the Italian jewelry brand was acquired by LVMH in an all-share deal for $6.01 billion, in which the Bulgari family sold their 50.4 percent controlling stake in exchange for 3 percent of LVMH.

2013: Loro Piana – LVMH acquired an 80 percent stake in the Italian luxury textile and ready-to-wear company, which was founded in 1924, in December 2013 for 2 billion euros.

2013: Nicholas Kirkwood – In 2013, LVMH acquired a 52 percent stake in the British footwear company, which was founded in 2004. In September 2020, Kirkwood announced that it will take back full ownership of its brand from LVMH in a transaction that would be completed by the end of 2020.

2013: J.W. Anderson – In addition to announcing that Jonathan Anderson would take the helm of Loewe, LVMH acquired a minority stake in Anderson’s eponymous J.W. Anderson label for an undisclosed sum.

2015: Repossi – LVMH acquired a 41.7 percent stake in the family-run Italian jewelry brand in November 2015. It upped its stake in Repossi to 69 percent in 2019.

2016: Rimowa – LVMH acquired an 80 percent stake in the German luggage company, which was founded in 1989, for 640 million euros in October 2016.

2017: Christian Dior – LVMH technically acquired the Paris-based couture house in 2017 in a $13.1 billion deal. Prior to the deal, Groupe Arnault, which is the private holding company holding owned and controlled by Bernard Arnault, was the only declared major shareholder in Christian Dior S.A. (For a more in-depth look at the previous Dior ownership structure, you can find that here).

2018: Jean Patou – LVMH bought a majority stake in Jean Patou, a French couture label that it says it will revive by relaunching its ready-to-wear clothing collections. LVMH bought the controlling stake from Britain’s Designer Parfums Ltd.

2019: Fenty – LVMH officially launched a new label, Fenty, as part of a joint venture with musician Rihanna, who holds a 49.99 percent stake in the new label, while LVMH owns the majority 50.01 percent. (In February 2021, LVMH announced that it would put the Fenty venture on hold indefinitely.)

2019: Stella McCartney – LVMH entered into a “joint venture” with Stella McCartney are the brand ended its longstanding joint venture with rival conglomerate Kering. The terms of the parties’ deal have not been disclosed, although it has been reported that Ms. McCartney remains the majority owner of her eponymous label.

2020: Tiffany & Co. – On the heels of LVMH attempting to pull out of a deal to acquire Tiffany & Co. for a whopping $16.2 billion ($135/share), and the initiation of a legal battle by Tiffany, the parties agreed to a renegotiated deal, in which LVMH will acquire all of Tiffany’s share for $131.50 each, in furtherance of a $15.8 billion transaction. (For a timeline of the Tiffany, LVMH deal and litigation, you can find that here).

2021: Phoebe Philo – In conjunction with an announcement that former Celine creative director Phoebe Philo will launch her own label, LVMH revealed that it has taken a minority stake in soon-to-launch label. The size of LVMH’s minority position and the terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

2021: Off-White – LVMH announced that it will take a 60 percent stake in Virgil Abloh’s brand Off-White. Abloh will retain a 40 percent interest and continue as creative director of the brand, which he founded in 2013.

2021: Officine Universelle Buly 1803 LVMH has acquired Officine Universelle Buly 1803, the French perfume and cosmetics company. Nearly four years after LVMH first invested in the company by way of its LVMH Luxury Ventures investment fund, the group has acquired the Officine Universelle Buly 1803. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

*This article was initially published in March 2018 and has been updated accordingly.

Big-name fashion figures, Hollywood stars, tech company executives, and deep-pocketed patrons of the arts are expected to flood the temporarily red-carpeted steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan on Monday evening, a COVID-caused alternative of the usual first Monday in May schedule, in American-designed wares to celebrate what has been popularly-coined “fashion’s biggest night of the year.” The high fashion-saturated red carpet of the museum’s annual Costume Institute Gala – which has garnered mainstream media attention in recent years – remains one of the most attention-grabbing in the industry, which is why many brands shell out more than $200,000 for tables at the event and then splash corresponding imagery of their guests on their Instagram accounts.

The annual red carpet for the Met Gala is inevitably smattered with high-profile attendees and high-fashion wares. This year, that will see many a celebrity and/or fashion figure in the creations of American designers, a nod to the “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” theme. (Tom Ford, who is a co-sponsored of the evening, will likely be a popular choice.) More than that, it will be graced by famous figures clad in garments created (and lent) by the brand sponsoring their individual attendance – the evening is a major marketing opportunity for brands, after all.

This year, the exhibition, itself – which is slated to open to the public on September 18 will run until May 5, 2022 when Part II, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” opens.

Look beyond the evening’s red carpet and the corresponding museum exhibition, and you will see that the evening is big business. The money raised by way of the gala – some $13.5 million as of 2017 – is enough to fund the Costume Institute’s annual operating budget in its entirety, and so, it is in the interest of the organizers to keep the appeal of the event, which got its start in 1948 when fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert decided to host a fundraising dinner to support the then-newly-founded Costume Institute ahead of the opening of its annual exhibit, intact.

In its early days, a Met Gala ticket cost $50 and attendees consisted almost exclusively of Manhattan’s charity event-going circle, and figures from the fashion industry. Under the watch of former Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, who was tasked to consult for the Costume Institute in 1972, the celebrity-centric nature of the event as we know it today began to take shape.

Attendance for the star-studded event is notoriously much trickier than it was at the outset. As the long-standing industry urban legend goes, even if an individual has the $35,000 it currently takes to purchase a single ticket, or a brand is willing to splash out between $200,000 or $300,000 for a table, getting on the guest list is not necessarily as simple as buying tickets. Vogue editor-in-chief and Conde artistic honcho, Ms. Wintour, is said to personally review – and approve or ban – every name on the traditionally 650-or-so-person list. Vogue’s traffic-meal-ticket du jour Kim Kardashian was reportedly banned in years prior, as have various cast members of the “Real Housewives” franchises. According to the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman, “Rumors have gone around for years that Ms. Wintour turns away guests she does not know or who she feels do not fit the image she wants her event to project.”

The exclusivity surrounding the list of invitees, as furthered by the mystique of the prerequisite stamp of approval from Wintour, almost certainly helps to boost the appeal of the entire event (one that Gwyneth Paltrow once called “un-fun” and “sucked.” The Goop guru has seemingly walked back on that after attending in subsequent years.) This very model of strict control in light of demand has helped put Hermes and its famed $12,000-plus Birkin bags on the “it” list for more than 30 years. It helped streetwear stalwart Supreme to command a $2.1 billion valuation when it was acquired by VF Corp. last year, and landed Off-White under the umbrella of LVMH, the largest luxury goods conglomerate in the world. In an industry as fickle and image-driven as fashion, few things motivate quite like a list or a cool kids club.

The fashion industry’s penchant for maintaining the status quo also lends a helping hand. As journalist Amy Odell wrote not too long ago about why brands continue to pay for print ads when magazine readership continues to plummet, “Tradition remains powerful in an industry built on constant change that, paradoxically, is full of entrenched interests and doesn’t really like to change very much.” That same reasoning applies here, as well.

More than 70 years after the Gala first got its start, Vogue has readily proclaimed that “on the fashion calendar, few dates are as important,” something WWD called into question in the not too distant past. In an article published ahead of 2019’s Gucci-sponsored “Camp” exhibition and corresponding gala, for instance, the trade publication suggested that “some big designers [were] skipping the Met Gala this year,” and noted that in the digital era, big brands – such as Ralph Lauren, Dior and Calvin Klein, which reportedly opted not to purchase tables – no longer need events like this to garner publicity; with an influencer and an Instagram account, they can do it themselves.

“The fashion-media matrix has certainly been irrevocably altered in recent years,” the trade noted. “If [a] brand wants to get an image of an actor or a ‘brand ambassador’ in one of its looks out into the world, it doesn’t need to spend well upward of $300,000 for a red-carpet event to do it when an Instagram post by it or an influencer can do the trick.”

At a time when brands are able to drum up much-needed PR on their own without a $300,000 table, can an event, such as the Met Gala, hold its weight? If 2019’s event was any indication, apparently it can. According to a rep for publishing giant and Vogue parent company Conde Nast, which helps sponsor the exhibition, and whose artistic director Wintour spearheads the gala, tickets were sold out, and have been for months. And in fact, it revealed that brands that have never paid for tables before, such as Louis Vuitton, were shelling out.

Yet another familiar fashion retailer is about to disappear from the British high street. The once-mighty Gap is the latest brand to pull down the shutters. Following in the footsteps (and depleted footfall) of Debenhams, Topshop, and so many others, Gap’s move to online-only selling is further evidence of the accelerating change in consumer direction – away from physical stores and onto our screens. 

Gap’s latest move is striking given that until 2008, the U.S. company – which also owns the Banana Republic, Athleta, and Old Navy brands, had been the world’s largest fashion retailer. That year, it relinquished its position at the top of the totem pole to Zara’s parent company, Inditex, and the years that followed have been progressively difficult for companies like Gap. Over the past decade, for instance, Gap’s sales declined as it sought to maintain an appealing mid-market product range at the right price. The retailer came under more pressure from lower-priced fashion competitors – such as H&M and Primark – and rapidly growing online competition. (Gap is also “in talks with its partners to sell its stores in Italy and France,” per Reuters, “as it looks to limit its presence to online in Europe and save costs.”)

In the UK, apparel company Next remains a confident online leader, while the likes of Amazon and ASOS have increased their share of the market. Relatively smaller, more specialized retailers, such as ultra-fast fashion company Boohoo, have also performed notably in the wake of the pandemic, as shoppers were forced to get their fashion fix online when non-essential shops were closed. Boohoo’s acquisition of defunct high street brands, such as Dorothy Perkins and Oasis, as well as other brand partnerships and diversification into the beauty sector, will further add to that company’s appeal. 

In addition, the younger consumers who might have formed a new generation of Gap shoppers are turning elsewhere – not only to e-commerce but to social commerce conducted on social media, where they can pre-purchase and buy garments and accessories, and engage in post-purchase chat and entertainment thereafter. (Although, to be fair, Gap has gotten a boost as of late thanks to TikTok, where users have gone crazy over its High Rise Cheeky Straight Jeans and its logo-ed  #gaphoodie, prompting a rise in sales, according to Mary Alderete, global head of Gap marketing.)

At the same time, no shortage of these consumers are becoming active participants in buying and selling fashion items through secondary market sites, such as Depop and Vinted, marking a further point of divergence from generations before them.

In this rapidly changing fashion retail environment, American companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target have seen significant growth during the pandemic. However, others, including Gap, have found the online trading environment more problematic. Gap’s online business – which will continue in the UK despite the store sell-offs – is not considered a big player and did not enable the retailer to make up for the lost business from lockdown-shuttered stores. 

Generation gap

Looking beyond the impact of COVID-19 on retail and changing consumption patterns of millennial and Gen-Z shoppers, in particular, a more profound problem is at play for Gap: brand identity and position in the larger fashion market. Brand awareness among consumers is likely to remain high, but Gap falls short in terms of being a favorite store for most consumers and/or providing an excellent experience. All the while, in its core mass market segment, newer entrants have found success with more focused and aspirational offers, and more appealing retail experiences. 

Across the board, brand touchpoints (i.e., instances in which a customer comes in contact with the brand), which integrate online, mobile and physical store channels, have become much more important for retailers. New technologies to personalize consumers’ shopping experiences and developments with augmented reality and virtual reality devices point the way to a more distinctive and innovative future. Gap has not really addressed these trends in the UK, and a successful sales and marketing formula based on a broad range of clothing for all ages at reasonable prices over many years is difficult to change – as other mid-market retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, have found. 

Still yet, location creates a further problem. At this stage in the pandemic, retailers are beginning to assess new formats and different locations. As consumers have returned to shopping more locally, many retailers are looking at opportunities for smaller stores in more convenient places. In particular, they have started to explore ways of integrating stores with their online operations throughout the shopping experience. Gap’s prime store locations with its inevitable high rents and business rates contribute significantly to its costs, while restricting its ability to try new ideas. 

With that in mind, maybe it was an inevitable move for the company to close shops and focus on its online business, as the likes of Debenhams have done and others will inevitably opt to do in the future. And as consumers become more aware of sustainability and ethical issues in fashion production and consumption, perhaps the time has come to welcome new thinking about fashion and a different type of shop.

Anthony Kent is a Professor of Fashion Marketing at Nottingham Trent University. (This article was initially published by the Conversation)

Few people want to buy products that involve the exploitation or enslavement of the workers who make them – but that is exactly most people do on a daily basis. Estimates reveal that there are 40.3 million people in slavery worldwide as part of an industry that generates an estimated $32 billion in profit each year. Extreme labor exploitation and other forms of modern slavery are embedded within the supply chains of many of the products and services that we choose to consume regularly, such as laptop computers, mobile phones, and of course, clothing

This raises important questions: how responsible are consumers for the slavery that is directly connected to our consumption, and what role should consumers play in reducing the demand and supply of products and services made by exploited workers? On one hand, the few examples of government legislation – including the United Kingdom’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act – clearly places some level of responsibility on consumers to be informed, to act, and to make choices that help to eradicate modern slavery. 

These actions include reporting suspected instances of exploitation and boycotting known products of slavery.

In contrast, other arguments are increasingly being made that it is not the responsibility of consumers to police modern slavery, particularly given that the causes of slavery are systemic, embedded within the processes and structures of commerce and governance. As FT columnist Sarah O’Connor and modern slavery and human trafficking expert and policy advisor Emily Kenway rightly assert, slavery and forms of extreme labor exploitation cannot be reduced without addressing the structural role of government and business. 

Consumer-citizen action

Global supply chains are complex and generally not visible or well understood by consumers. So, asking them to take responsibility for how products are made may let businesses – which do understand this – and governments – which do have the power to change things – off the hook. Government and business need to do more to address slavery in production systems through, for example, greater transparency, but where does that leave the role of the consumer? 

Focusing on UK consumer understanding of modern slavery, our research highlights a more complicated and active role for consumers in challenging the exploitation of workers who produce the goods and services they consume. It points to the broader observation that shoppers are often “complicit” when it comes to the social and environmental consequences of their consumer choices. Indeed, we find that consumers are not ignorant of the risks of slavery and extreme labor exploitation. More worryingly still, some consumers explicitly express their indifference towards such issues, presumably prioritizing convenience and cost-savings instead. 

Reviewing the Modern Slavery Act and similar legislation reveals how our current system relies on consumers to report and boycott instances of slavery as a key mechanism in the overall eradication plan. And while we agree that shifting responsibility away from businesses and governments and on to the consumer risks relieving these powerful players of their duties and commitments, should this argument be used to negate all attempts to mobilize consumers? 

While it is right to be suspicious of attempts to pass the buck on to consumers, removing all responsibility from consumers and insisting that the realm of consumption remains a seemingly benign and apolitical arena is not a useful way forward either. The considerable consumer inertia in response to scandals in the UK, such as the one involving Boohoo – which saw the ultra-fast fashion company accused of sourcing its clothes from factories with poor health and safety records and paying staff less than the minimum wage – illustrates a need to sensitize consumers to the slavery in their consumption, and to elevate their power to act. This may be framed as calling on consumers to take positive citizenship action (lobbying) or negative action (boycotting). 

It is also important to recognize that consumer-citizens are not unfamiliar with taking action on important issues. For example, the understanding that we have environmental responsibilities as consumers is well rehearsed. It is accepted that “we must place on the consumer at least some of the responsibility for making the economy sustainable,” as Tim Jackson writes in Material Concerns: Pollution, Profit and Quality of Life. Imagine action on climate change that did not include a role for consumers in taking some level of responsibility for their own impact through the consumer choices they make. 

Changing how we consume is a vital link in transitioning to a cleaner and more sustainable society, even though businesses are disproportionately responsible for carbon emissions. It should be no different when we consider modern slavery. 

Moreover, our research does point to an important role for consumers, revealing that they do want to take action – just not on their own. They want to be partners in this modern slavery equation, particularly with business and government. Greater consumer interest, involvement and action over modern slavery is bound to raise more – not fewer – questions about the role and responsibilities of other groups involved, leading to greater transparency. With this in mind, the consumer perspective should be viewed as a useful ally to business and government strategies in the campaign to eradicate modern slavery. 

Deirdre Shaw is a Professor Marketing and Consumer Research at the University of Glasgow. Andreas Chatzidakis is a Professor of Marketing at the Royal Holloway University of London. Michal Carrington is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Melbourne. (This article was initially published by The Conversation.)

A $1 billion-plus shopping mecca “for the super-rich” was slated to welcome the public into its glitzy enclave dab-smack in the heart of Paris in the spring of 2020. The property of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, La Samaritaine – a sweeping 152-year old shopping destination located steps from the Seine, a short stroll from the main courtyard of the Louvre, and not terribly far from in-the-midst-of-rebuild Notre Dame – revealed that it would open its doors almost two decades after the mighty LVMH first swooped in with its deep pockets and grand plans to revamp the iconic site and 16 years after the shopping center was forced to go dark due to its failure to meet various significant building safety codes.

When La Samaritaine opens to the public for the first time in 16 years (the date of which has been pushed back on more than one occasion, in part as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), Paris-based LVMH plans to use it to “grab a greater slice of tourist spending in Paris,” according to Bloomberg. Thanks to offerings from “more than 600 brands,” the result of a partnership between LVMH and duty-free retailer DFS, as well as a 5-star hotel (going nightly rates are expected to top $1,270), a Christian Dior-branded spa, apartments, and a swathe of ritzy restaurants, the Samaritaine is expected to draw “several millions of visitors per year.”

Any impending shopping or spa-ing or restaurant-going that unfolds under La Samaritaine’s art nouveau glass roof and amidst its resorted Belle Epoque glamour does not come without a history of striking squabbles that left the future of the cluster of four magasins in Paris’ First Arrondissement in limbo for years. The back-and-forth surrounding the project was so drawn out and at times, unpredictable, that when LVMH’s chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony hosted some of the earliest invitees to the space in November 2019, he welcomed them with the caveat, “There were times when I wondered if I would ever be able to say those words.”

Despite years of sets backs and the onset of a global health pandemic that has brought most overseas travel to a screeching halt, and the complications that have come with that, LVMH’s plan to restore La Samaritaine came simply enough in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Fresh off a successful endeavor to acquire and refurbish/rebrand the now-nearly 200-year old Le Bon Marché – Paris’ first department store – in the mid-to-late 1980s and turn it into what the group calls one of “the most exclusive shops in Paris,” LVMH was seemingly looking to further bolster its real estate footprint close to home.

So, the Bernard Arnault-run conglomerate – now 33 years old and the owner of approximately 75 brands, ranging from Louis Vuitton and Dior to Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot – set its sights on La Samaritaine and acquired a 55 percent stake in the company (and its real estate) in 2001 for €256 million. Noting the appeal of the property in its 20-F filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) for 2002, LVMH described the Samaritaine as “one of the first and most emblematic department stores in Paris,” situated in “a high-growth strategic district [that] attracts both local customers and has a high potential with international visitors.”

LVMH’s Plans

When LVMH entered into the picture, the department store, which had been operating at a loss since the 1970s, was certainly in need of a revamp. And LVMH – in the midst of building what would unquestionably become the most valuable luxury goods conglomerate in the world – could certainly provide support. By the end of 2002, the group asserted in an SEC filing that “with its help, La Samaritaine [had] developed a new growth strategy and started repositioning itself in the fashion and accessories sector, all in order to increase the franchise’s appeal to younger customers with strong purchasing power and at the leading edge of fashion trends.”

But LVMH’s plans – which included renovating the Samaritaine’s famed grands magasins while keeping the department store open in furtherance of what it forecasted as “steady growth for [the business] beginning in 2003” – would come to an abrupt halt before then. In June 2005, just a few years after its initial acquisition, the department store was forced to close, with city officials citing a host of safety issues in connection with the steel and glass portion of the main Samaritaine outpost, (i.e., Magasin 1).

That, however, was only the tip of the iceberg of what was to come.

The department store’s closure – quite possibly “for several years” due to the need for “urgent”  and expansive renovations – was met with “staged sit-ins by hundreds of employees on the last day of trading amid fears that the store’s owner LVMH [would] decide not to reopen it,” the Globe & Mail reported at the time. While LVMH denied any plans to “close the store for good and convert the building into office space,” it went back to the drawing board, nonetheless.

What LVMH returned with was a $500 million-plus plan to transform the grand structure and its various corresponding buildings into mixed-use space. It would keep some of the department store alive via an array of branded stores, while adding offices, a luxury hotel, and social housing. The arguably innovative idea did not find favor amongst one major player in the equation: La Samaritaine’s minority shareholder, the Cognacq-Jay Foundation, a charitable fund set up by Samaritaine’s founders Ernest Cognacq and Louise Jay in 1916.

The two sides butted heads over what the future would look like for the sweeping space that first opened in 1869 at the center of the city’s most tourist-heavy district and which was named a historic national monument by the French Ministry of Culture 121 years later in 1990.

After “fighting firmly for a new Samaritaine department store more in line with their founder’s mission,” including an emphasis on “helping businesses to engage with the social sector,” representatives for the Cognacq-Jay Foundation – which ultimately held a 40.6 percent stake in the business to LVMH’s 59.4 percent” – “walked out of talks to reopen the distinctive building in protest of what it called the irresponsible attitude of LVMH,” the Guardian revealed in December 2008.

The Foundation’s president Georges Renand formalized the move in “a stinging letter,” alerting La Samariatine’s then-president (and the former chairman of Le Bon Marché) Philippe de Beauvoir that the Foundation would no longer participate in negotiations about the future use of the iconic site. The Foundation then proceeded to declare in a public-facing statement that the“resignation reflects our deep and fundamental disagreement with the majority shareholder … on the future of Samaritaine.”

“We are letting the majority shareholder” – LVMH – “take sole responsibility for its decisions, which have in any case always been made despite our opposition,” the Foundation declared.

A Short-Lived Victory

The messy working relationship between the two entities would sort itself out by 2010 when LVMH bought out the Cognacq-Jay Foundation’s stake, thereby, becoming the sole owner, and things began to look up. In December 2012, LVMH was granted the necessary building permits it had been waiting on for more than a year in order to transform the Seine-facing and Rue de Rivoli sides of La Samaritaine. That victory was short-lived, though. Within two months of the permits being granted, an appeal was lodged about the work that LVMH was planning to do on the two sides of the Samaritaine.

It turns out, as LVMH was preparing to break ground on its masterpiece, someone was waiting to stop them. Alexandre Gady – the president of the Society for the Protection of Landscapes and Aesthetics in France at the time and “perhaps the preeminent historian of Paris of his generation,” in the words of the New Yorker – was that someone. To put a stop to the Samaritaine-specific alteration of the city’s historic center, he initiated legal proceedings, including two formal requests for cancellation of the Seine and Rue de Rivoli permits.

Gady, along with heritage groups Society for the Protection of Landscapes and Aesthetics and SOS Paris, argued that the city of Paris was not considering its urban planning regulations when it granted the permits to LVMH. In accordance with those regulations, any new construction must take into account the characteristics of the facades of neighboring buildings, as well as the facade of the building it is replacing. LVMH’s plans for La Samaritaine – including the nearly $500 million redevelopment planned by Japanese architect duo SANAA, which would see the demolition of several structures at the rear of the Samaritaine site and the replacement of a facade that stretched for almost an entire block with “a set of etched glass waves” – did not fit the bill.

In fact, not only did LVMH’s plans – which would serve to “merge multiple structures, built between the 1600s and the 1930s and progressively annexed to the Art Nouveau,” per Bloomberg – not fit the bill, in the eyes of the groups, they also argued that such large-scale alterations would “distort the center of Paris.” On the other hand, LVMH, developers, and a select politician or two, including the then-new mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo pointed to the “boon” that the revamped destination would provide for the local economy.

The matter would make its way in and out of various courts in Paris between late 2012 and the summer of 2015, with LVMH winning some rounds, and Gady and Co. landing victories in others, such as a favorable decision from the Tribunal Administratif, a French administrative court, which rejected LVMH’s permit for the Rue de Rivoli construction in January 2015.

In response to being handed the unfavorable Rue de Rivoli decision, Arnault – who holds the title of the richest man in France (and the second richest in the entire world) – told Reuters that his group would not back down, and instead, would escalate the matter to France’s supreme administrative court, and that is exactly what LVMH did. After all, such legal quandaries were hardly unchartered terrain for LVMH; construction for the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton, for instance, stretched over 8 years, in large part thanks to formal resistance (and legal proceedings) from the Coordination for the Safeguarding of the Bois de Boulogne. It would prove to take years, sizable legal bills, and the passage of a special national French law for that cultural epicenter to come into fruition.

However, just as in the case of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, LVMH and its chairman ultimately got their way for La Samaritaine.

Bringing Modernity to Paris

In June 2015, just over a year after Tribunal Administratif approved the permit for the construction on the Seine-facing side of the property, a decision from the Conseil d’Etat – the highest court in France for issues and cases involving matters of public administration – approved the building permit for the renovation of the building located on Rue de Rivoli. According to the Conseil d’Etat, the lower courts had interpreted city planning regulations far too strictly, so much so that nearly any contemporary or innovative project could never be allowed, something that would not be in anyone’s interest.

“We need to know how to bring modernity to this city, and modernity is not the enemy of heritage,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a statement on the heels of the court’s decision. “Nostalgia is a nice engine for a city, but creation is also a good one.”

LVMH’s ambitious plan could proceed … in its entirety, and the group declared the news in a widely-circulated press release. “Ten years after the closure of La Samaritaine for safety reasons and after many years of litigation, these two permits are therefore now irrevocable,” LVMH announced. “La Samaritaine is preparing to resume this ambitious project for the restoration and renovation of the entire site. The three years of works should generate around 1800 jobs.” Overall, the group proclaimed, once the site is renovated, “it will directly create more than 2200 jobs.”

Reflecting on the soon-to-reopen La Samaritaine almost two decades after LVMH first brought it under its glitzy umbrella, Jean-Jacques Guiony, who spearheaded much of the effort as the CEO of the Samaritaine business (in addition to his role as the CFO of LVMH), says the hard-fought revamp makes sense. In interviews this month, Guiony said that “the Samaritaine has no architectural unity, which isn’t to say it doesn’t have personality.” With that in mind, “It is fitting that there should be a strong architectural gesture of the 21st century to complete this new incarnation.”

Following pandemic-related delays, La Samaritaine is expected to open to the public on June 19.

*This article was initially published on November 21, 2019, and has been updated accordingly.