/ 30 January 2023

The wolf in cashmere

1637606515 Dior John Galliano Archive 02
Living like a king: LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault and Princess Charlene of Monaco attend John Galliano’s show for Dior at Paris Fashion Week in July 2012. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

For those wanting to understand the fashion world, Kingdom of Dreams is the newest docu-series that looks back on its most epic era. When designers Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs were the kings of fashion, the industry was (and still is) controlled by the god of this glamorous world: Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH — Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. 

The show’s release on Showmax is perfectly timed as Arnault has appointed his daughter Delphine Arnault chief executive of Christian Dior as of this month, keeping the family’s grip on fashion. Arnault’s younger children also hold cushy executive positions at LVMH-owned brands such as Tiffany & Co, Tag Heuer and Loro Piana. 

In four episodes, Kingdom of Dreams, directed by Ian Bonhôte, brings tales of the fashion world to life with home movies, behind-the-scenes looks at 1990s runway shows and interviews with people such as editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour, fashion critic Tim Blanks and Bernard Arnault himself. 

Kingdom of Dreams is a realm focused on creating a fantasy, which was transformed into a global industry run by tycoons who saw the value of these dreams, and turned that into beautiful profits. 

“Greed and envy are what drives  the kingdom of dreams,” says journalist Dana Thomas in the doccie. 

The rise and rise of LVMH 

Kingdom of Dreams explores the meteoric rise of fashion conglomerates such as LVMH and the Gucci Group and the young designers these companies brought in to turn sleepy, family-owned brands into multimillion fashion houses. 

High fashion was in peril in the 1980s. Dior was nearing bankruptcy, Givenchy was no longer relevant and family politics threatened to tear apart the House of Gucci. 

“In 1984, I convinced my father to launch the takeover of Christian Dior and Boussac,” says Bernard Arnault. 

“To be successful, you need to dream. You do not need to be a dreamer but you need to dream. When you dream, you can do things that are impossible.”

Arnault’s dream was to run the world’s biggest fashion empire; to own every top fashion house. He wanted to be the richest man on the planet and you only get to this level if you’re driven by power and money. This insatiable hunger earned Arnault nicknames such as “the wolf in cashmere” and “the terminator”. 

Arnault quickly ditched Boussac,

 kept Dior, and continued his shopping spree, buying up French family-owned luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Céline. 

Arnault’s hostile takeovers of these businesses was ironic. He weeded out family members by bringing no-holds-barred capitalist methods to an industry that prizes elegance and good manners. Today, LVMH is an untouchable family business worth $400 billion.  

He seemed to consider people commodities to dispose of but his modus operandi would later be to the detriment of the designers hand-picked by him to run his brands. 

The brat pack

The 1990s saw Arnault’s brands getting dusty, tired and old. The haute couture houses catered for the older generation of fashion’s elite, while there was a whole generation of untapped new buyers. 

Kingdom of Dreams shows the rise of the young designers Arnault picks to turn around LVMH in order to reach them. But his choice of talent comes from the whispers of Wintour, editor of Vogue and the most powerful woman in fashion; she is tagged the “tycoon whisperer”.  

Arnault recruits three designers. Galliano, the elegant and trembling romantic, feminine designer is given creative reins at Christian Dior. Alexander McQueen, a boisterous British tailoring genius with a feisty attitude “full of piss and vinegar” goes to Givenchy. Marc Jacobs is brought in to reinvent Louis Vuitton with his deluxe version of grunge. 

While Arnault revamps his family brands, House of Gucci is the one that retaliates against his poaching, despite being in dire need of  revitalisation itself. Instead, Gucci’s new Italian management looks within the brand’s design team and pulls Ford, the suave American designer full of sexy Hollywood glamour, who reinvents the business.

Kingdom of Dreams shows how high the stakes were for these four designers, just as the 2021 film House of Gucci shows the battles within the Gucci family. 

Designer downfall 

The series reveals that as designers get more successful, danger grows because they are just a segment in a chapter of a bigger business. Once their creativity invites big money, their soul is shackled to the fate of the brand. 

This is the price of climbing to the top of fashion, which Kingdom of Dreams articulates. McQueen, Galliano, Ford and Jacobs sold their souls to the fashion god, which led all of them to their downfall. 

As the conglomerates amp up the pressure on their designers, they amp up the indulgences, which is when they start to misbehave. 

Aldo Gucci, former chairperson of Gucci said: “Money is a terrible drug”, which fuelled designers’ coping mechanisms. Ford and Jacobs had cocaine and alcohol addictions; Galliano also turned to the bottle and McQueen retaliated against fashion etiquette by confronting its ugly side. 

Delicate French fashion sensibilities were offended by Galliano’s anti-Semitic behaviour, which cost him his job at Dior. Jacobs’s bratty behaviour made him a little punk, while Ford and McQueen shocked with their sexy, grotesque runway shows. But you can’t overlook the legacies of these designers, who helped make Arnault one of the richest people in the world. 

Designer bags once were beautiful, handcrafted luxury items. Under Arnault, they came to represent wealth, success and power. He is also credited with fostering the hyper-consumerism on which the fast-fashion sector thrives today. 

“Arnauld created the fashion pyramid — at the very top there is couture, which sets the tone, colours, trends and silhouettes for what is found in retailers at shopping malls,” says Thomas.  

Despite Kingdom of Dreams retelling what is known to most fashion enthusiasts, the story is so well packaged that you’ll want to tell everyone about it.

Kingdom of Dreams is currently streaming on Showmax.

A visually dazzling chronicle of the fashion world spanning three decades -from the early-1990s to the 2010s. It is a Golden Age, a time when the forces of groundbreakingcreativity and disruptive business converge and collide. Fashion explodes out of the traditional, elite kingdoms of haute couture and style -Paris, Milan, London and New York -to become a truly global phenomenon. Unfolding over four episodes, the series will chart a highstakesstory packed with the seductive beauty and dramatic intrigue behind the most iconic fashion moments and shows of the era.

A stitch in time: The history of LVMH under Arnault

1984: While working in finance, 35-year-old Bernard Arnault learns Christian Dior is for sale. Taking $15 million from his family and  $45 million from French institution Lazard, Arnault’s first purchase spawns a fashion empire.

1987: Luxury goods conglomerate LVMH is formed when Moët & Chandon, Hennessy and Louis Vuitton merge. 

1988: Arnault owns the rights to fashion house Christian Dior but not Dior fragrances, which are owned by Louis Vuitton. Taking a 24% stake in LVMH, and a further 13.5% later that year, makes Arnault the largest shareholder. 

1988: LVMH acquires Givenchy’s haute-couture and ready-to-wear ranges. LVMH had owned Givenchy fragrances since purchasing it from Veuve Clicquot in 1986. 

1989: Arnault becomes the chairperson and chief executive of LVMH through a boardroom battle after his shares increase to 43.5%. 

1993 to 1996: LVMH’s global acquisition campaign begins. In 1993, Italian leather goods brand Berluti, Japanese house Kenzo and French perfumer Guerlain are acquired. In 1996, Spanish leather goods brand Loewe is bought and French house Céline purchased for $540 million. 

1997 to 2001: LVMH purchases a stake in Marc Jacobs in 1997. That year, Marc Jacobs becomes creative director of Louis Vuitton. LVMH buys French cosmetic chain Sephora and expands globally. In 1999, Tag Heuer exchanges 50.1% ownership for $739 million. 

1999: Arnault is determined to take over Gucci Group (now Kering) and buys 34.4% shares for LVMH. By the end of 1999, LVMH sells its shares to Kering and a French financial group for $818 million. It’s the first of many tricky takeovers. 

2000 to 2003: More fashion brands are taken over. In 2000, Emilio Pucci is partially acquired. DKNY is acquired in 2001, but sold to G-III Apparel Group in 2016, and LVMH owns 84% in Fendi, but only 4% of Hermès in 2001. 

2011 to 2013: Bulgari is bought for $60.1 billion in 2011. In 2013, Italian brand Loro Piana is purchased for €2 billion and Arnault’s son Antoine Arnault is chairperson. JW Anderson is bought by LVMH, who sends Anderson to design at Loewe. 

2015: LVMH no longer holds any shares in Hermès after French financial watchdogs expose LVMH’s secret stake-building in Hermès. 

2016 to 2017: In 2016, LVMH acquires German luggage brand Rimowa and Alexandre Arnault is chief executive. LVMH acquires Christian Dior in 2017 for $13 billion. Prior to this, Dior was owned by Groupe Arnault, the private holding company controlled by Bernard Arnault. 

2019 and 2020: In 2019, LVMH launches luxury fashion brand Fenty with Rihanna, but the brand is put on hold indefinitely as of last year. In 2020, Frédéric Arnault becomes Tag Heuer chief executive at the age of 25. 

2021: LVMH buys Tiffany & Co for $16.2 billion, the biggest acquisition in luxury brand history. LVMH also buys 60% of Off-White shares. 

2023: Bernard Arnault appoints his daughter Delphine Arnault as chief executive of Christian Dior.