Bernard Arnault Is Now the World’s Richest Person. Thanks China?

What Happened: Move over, Jeff Bezos; there’s a bigger billionaire in town. On May 24, Forbes named fashion tycoon Bernard Arnault the world’s richest person with an estimated net worth of $186.3 billion, beating out the Amazon founder by $300 million. Tied over the weekend, the chief executive of LVMH saw his personal stake jump more than $600 million after the group’s stock rose 0.4 percent on Monday morning. This, plus strong comebacks from star brands Louis Vuitton and Dior, helped Arnault’s fortune surge over $110 billion since March 2020.

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The Jing Take: Although the pecking order has fluctuated wildly during the pandemic, Arnault’s climb to the top reflects not only the resilience of global luxury, but also the strength of European fashion houses in particular. In March, LVMH dethroned food giant Nestlé as the largest company on the European stock market, with a capitalization of around $319 billion as of late February. Meanwhile, robust performances from Kering and Chanel similarly helped owners François Pinault and Alain and Gerard Wertheimer more than double their net worth to $55.1 billion and $35 billion, respectively, in just the past 14 months. 

This is not to say, however, that the European market has recovered. In fact, Europe is where many brands reported losses due to store closures, a lack of international tourism, and a slower vaccination campaign. Rather, Arnault and other industry leaders have Chinese consumers to thank for their soaring fortunes. LVMH, for one, surpassed 2019 numbers with a revenue of $16.7 billion in the first quarter, bolstered by an 86 percent sales increase in Asia. And key to this growth has been catering to local clients, from celebrating Lunar New Year and 520 Chinese Valentine’s Day with special collections, to staging appearances for Dior at Shanghai Fashion Week, to scheduling pop-up stores and exhibitions in major Chinese cities.

Of course, it’s unclear how long Arnault will be able to keep his crown, especially with Bezos just a few hundred million behind. However, as the LVMH empire expands through the acquisition of Tiffany & Co., unprecedented partnerships, and more activations in the mainland, the businessman can expect his net worth to remain ridiculously, enviably high. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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