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Obituary: Henry Racamier, 91, Led Vuitton Expansion

PARIS — Henry Racamier, one of the architects of Louis Vuitton’s early growth and a popular business figure in France, died Saturday after suffering a heart attack while on holiday in Sardinia. He was 91.<br><br>The Paris Opera, of which...

PARIS — Henry Racamier, one of the architects of Louis Vuitton’s early growth and a popular business figure in France, died Saturday after suffering a heart attack while on holiday in Sardinia. He was 91.

The Paris Opera, of which he was a patron, announced his death on Monday.

A self-made steel magnate by career, Racamier married into the Vuitton family in 1943. When Racamier assumed the reins at Vuitton in 1977, the company counted just two stores in France with annual volume of less than $10 million. Sensing the brand’s potential, he aggressively opened units around the world and developed Vuitton on a global scale. By 1990, Vuitton had 140 stores.

In 1985, Racamier listed the company on the Paris Bourse and diversified his portfolio, acquiring the Givenchy and Loewe fashion businesses, as well as the champagne producer, Veuve Clicquot.

But he is perhaps best known for being at the center of the battle for luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in the late Eighties. Racamier, then Louis Vuitton chairman, faced off against Bernard Arnault following Vuitton’s 1987 merger with Moët Hennessy. After two years of legal and public relations battles, Arnault ultimately won his quest in 1990 and Racamier was ousted.

In recent years, Racamier, through his Orcofi luxury goods holding company, had held minority stakes in such companies as Ines de la Fressange and Lanvin.

Racamier was an avid patron of the arts. In 1986, he created the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Opera, Music and Art, which played a vital role in commissioning and sponsoring some 50 operas and 50 new musical scores. He has received numerous awards of French merit, including the Legion of Honor, for his efforts.

Racamier was also a passionate sailor. Under his guidance, Louis Vuitton became the official sponsor for the challenger regatta leading up to the America’s Cup, now known as the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Racamier is survived by his wife, Odile, and his daughters Laurence Fontaine and Caroline Bentz.