Tuesday 15 October 2019

'They're like competing boys, but the stakes run into the billions' - French tycoons show competitive streak over Notre Dame aid

Debris inside the damaged Notre Dame cathedral (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool/AP)
Debris inside the damaged Notre Dame cathedral (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool/AP)
People attend a vigil in Paris, (Michel Euler/AP)
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening Photo credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday Photo credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Francois-Henri Pinault, his wife Salma Hayek and his billionaire father Francois Pinault said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs to fire damaged Notre Dame cathedral
A woman prays next to Notre Dame Cathedral after it suffered heavy damage from a fire. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Horror: A woman reacts as she watches flames engulf the roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Devastated: Flames engulf the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The cathedral is on an island in the Seine. Photo: REUTERS
Devastated: Faithful pray as they watch Notre-Dame Cathedral destroyed by fire. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Flames illuminate the night sky as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old Notre-Dame cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A still image taken from a video shows flames at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
Business owners have offered millions to restore the devastated Notre Dame cathedral after the fire

Thomas Adamson

TWO of France's richest men, long locked in a public rivalry, are once again pitted against each other - this time over flashy and competing donations to rebuild Notre Dame.

Billionaire luxury tycoons - Bernard Arnault, 70, and Francois Pinault, 82 - are among France's fiercest business competitors and patrons.

Their rivalry reached dramatic heights when it was announced Mr Pinault, his son and their company Artemis would immediately donate €100 million to help finance renovations to Notre Dame after it was seriously damaged in an inferno during building works.

Hours later, Mr Arnault shot back with an announcement that he, his family and his luxury company LVMH would pledge double that amount - €200 million - for the restoration of the church that was immortalised in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - an eternal story of obsession and jealousy.

The famed rivalry of Mr Arnault and Mr Pinault goes back decades.

"They're like competing boys, but the stakes run into the billions," said Long Nguyen, fashion editor at Flaunt magazine.

Mr Arnault is France's - and Europe's - richest man and CEO of the world's biggest luxury group, LVMH, the owner of iconic fashion houses Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.

Mr Pinault founded the world's second-biggest, Kering, formerly PPR, that acquired rival brand Saint Laurent in a face-off.

Francois-Henri Pinault, his wife Salma Hayek and his billionaire father Francois Pinault said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs to fire damaged Notre Dame cathedral
Francois-Henri Pinault, his wife Salma Hayek and his billionaire father Francois Pinault said they were immediately giving 100 million euros from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs to fire damaged Notre Dame cathedral

"The Notre Dame donations are the latest in a long line ... They run competing fashion houses and both like the centre stage," he added.

Both men also possess a sizeable art collection - and a desire to show it off in competing museums.

Mr Pinault's son Francois-Henri married actress Salma Hayek and is often in the society pages, while Mr Arnault's son Antoine fathered children to supermodel Natalia Vodianova.

The two were reportedly on friendly business terms until the late 1990s. Some commentators have linked the souring of the pair's relations to a bidding battle over the ownership of Italian fashion house Gucci, which eventually went to Mr Pinault's Kering group.

Then, the battling turned to art.

Mr Arnault opened the Louis Vuitton Foundation, designed by architect Frank Gehry, in 2014 to showcase his vast personal art trove in Paris' far western suburbs. Some critics have branded it a vanity project, with French media claiming that the glimmering building's final price tag came in at close to $900 million.

Meanwhile Mr Pinault, who with his son is estimated to represent France's sixth fortune, is following hot on Mr Arnault's heels and is set to open his multimillion-euro contemporary art museum, the Collection Pinault-Paris, next spring.

Since 2001, Mr Pinault has gradually been ceding control of his business interests to his eldest son Francois-Henri, 56, to concentrate on his art collecting.

The museum, designed by another big-name architect, Tadao Ando, will display the octogenarian tycoon's personal contemporary art collection.

The website highlights its prime central location "in the very heart of Paris" in the city's former stock exchange.

The Bettencourt Meyers family, which owns cosmetics giant L'Oreal, and Total also each pledged €100 million to go towards the restoration of the 850-year-old cathedral.

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