PARIS — From the moment he acquired the brand in 1984 to its recent integration into the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton empire, Christian Dior has held a special significance for French luxury magnate Bernard Arnault.
On the 70th anniversary of the house, the LVMH chairman and chief executive officer reflected on the lessons of the founder and set out his confident vision for Dior’s future.
WWD: Seventy years after it was founded, what is Dior’s position in the global luxury firmament?
Bernard Arnault: The house of Dior holds a very unique position in the world of luxury. I often tell a story that happened to me in 1971 while I studied in the U.S.: I was chatting with a cab driver who expressed a great love and fascination for France. I asked him if the name Georges Pompidou, who was then the president of the French Republic, meant anything to him. His answer: “I’m afraid not, but I know Christian Dior.” By then, Mr. Dior had been dead for 15 years, Marc Bohan was the creative director and, I will add, he was dressing the first lady, Claude Pompidou! This anecdote has stayed with me to this day as the perfect illustration of the extraordinary power and romance associated with the name of a designer of this magnitude. If you ask most people around the globe what first comes to mind when they think of France, they will tell you fashion, and if you think fashion, you immediately think Dior. Fifteen years went by and the opportunity to acquire Christian Dior Couture presented itself to me and today, every time I visit one of our boutiques anywhere in the world, I can feel the same unique excitement and fascination for this house and its legendary name.
WWD: Which aspects of the personality and strategy of the founder Christian Dior do you find most impressive and inspiring?
B.A.: It is hard to single out one or the other. Christian Dior was a visionary and this goes far beyond fashion. His first show, referred to as the New Look, was not just a revolution in style, but also a complete societal signifier. He was extremely in sync with his era, with the deep and profound aspirations of society at that time of fundamental changes, and he provided an answer to some of the questions that were shaping social aspirations at that moment. He did this with his own language and form of expression, but he also put extremely articulate words to it and explained in many ways the path that led him to this very inspired concept of “civilized happiness.” He gave lectures about it, wrote books, he was tireless about the subject. Isn’t this the sign of true genius?
I am also deeply connected to his passion for art. We cannot forget that he was a gallerist before he became a couturier and remained a collector throughout his life. I share with him a tremendous admiration for Picasso and for the [Alberto] Giacometti sculptures he exhibited as a gallery owner, but also a great passion for music and architecture.
Christian Dior was also the precursor of global luxury as we experience it today. His vision for luxury was an amazing curation of French art de vivre, which he elevated and globalized as a symbol of refinement and cultural excellence. He presented his first perfume and his first haute couture collection on the same day, Feb. 12, 1947. This conscious decision carries in itself the founding principles of what was to become transversal luxury — an idea that has carried the house through its development to this day through jewelry, cosmetics, ready-to-wear, men’s wear, children’s wear and high jewelry.
Then, in 1947, he immediately thought of global expansion, taking his collections first to the U.S. and then around the world. Our entire industry still operates under these principles that he initiated so long ago.
WWD: Dior was highly innovative in how he built a brand in a transversal and international way. Do you think this approach remains a pertinent one for luxury brands in general today?
B.A.: The very daring vision of Christian Dior in 1947 is not only the prevalent model on which luxury houses have developed ever since, but it was also prescient of the fact that the world was becoming smaller and is now a global market.
WWD: At the same time, technology has completely rewritten consumption. What kind of measures does Dior need to take in order to anticipate the 21st-century client’s needs?
B.A.: New technologies have always been the main change agent in the behavior of consumers and the house of Dior has always been on the forefront of this transformation by anticipating our clients’ expectations, whether it be in communicating with them or on the retail side. It is this very delicate balance between the most elevated tradition of excellence, what we call savoir faire, which is inherent to luxury, and an inextinguishable curiosity for everything new and transformative. Dior is a house with an unwavering sense of its past and a very defined path forward.
WWD: You have completed an important operation to bring Christian Dior Couture back under the control of LVMH. What was your motivation behind this?
B.A.: The purchase of Christian Dior Couture by LVMH has allowed us to simplify the structure. It also marks the strength of the family group within one of the greatest French companies. On a more personal level, it is also a testimony to my deep attachment to this house.
WWD: What is the integration of the brand’s fashion and perfume/cosmetics activities likely to change for Dior? Do you think that an evolution in the organization or management of the brand is necessary?
B.A.: The unification of the fashion activities with the brand’s cosmetic and fragrance division is another reminder of our founder’s philosophy: both are linked, without distinction. It will bring even more cohesiveness to the brand in vision and image, allowing all necessary resources to join in the common goal of a seamless development.
WWD: What are your ambitions for the Dior brand? Some analysts say it has the potential to generate revenues comparable to those of Louis Vuitton today. Is that conceivable?
B.A.: I have always had great ambitions for the house of Dior. The potential for further growth is tremendous. The extraordinary interest and fervor for our exhibition in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” serves as a reminder of the tremendous and unadulterated power this name holds in the collective memory.
WWD: What is your watchword for the Dior teams today?
B.A.: Be creative.