wine estate
wine estate

Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

For the cosmopolitan Prince Robert de Luxembourg, owning one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates, Château Haut-Brion, was not enough. The former Hollywood screenwriter is creating a world of fine wine and cuisine fantasy for visitors to enjoy in Bordeaux and Paris – and much more besides. Darius Sanai chats to the Prince about the future of Thomas Jefferson’s favourite estate

Chatting in fluent English about online retail and the Chinese social media app WeChat, Prince Robert de Luxembourg does not exactly conform to a preconception of a European prince who owns the longest established of all the great Bordeaux wine estates.

And yet since he took over Domaine Clarence Dillon, maker of Château Haut-Brion, in 2003, Prince Robert has transformed the company, taking it from being the maker of a couple of the most celebrated wines in the world (Haut-Brion and its sister, La Mission, and their second wines) but little else (and a little profit), to a business employing 200 people with five different wine ranges, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, an upmarket wine store next door, an online fine-wine retail business and a wholesaling arm.

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To add a little tannin to the story, Prince Robert, despite being born into the family that owns Château Haut-Brion, was not even intending to run it. In his youth, he was a successful screenwriter, spotted by Creative Artists in Los Angeles, with one of his scripts optioned by Steven Spielberg. To this day, he looks as if he would be as comfortable sipping a margarita in Malibu as a glass of the legendary 1989 vintage of his wine in Bordeaux.

You also feel he has only just begun on his journey of creating a real enterprise around a gem that was previously, if not neglected then certainly not fully polished.

He insists that he will not, unlike Bernard Arnault of LVMH, luxury magnate and owner of the equally celebrated Château Cheval Blanc, be lending his wine’s name to a hotel group. But there is more in the offing, including a tasting, dining and museum facility at the château itself. Unlike Cheval Blanc, Petrus, Lafite and Margaux, Haut-Brion is easily accessible from the city and airport of Bordeaux, and it is a place where he is determined that any lover of great wines should be able to visit and enjoy.

man looking out of window

Prince Robert de Luxembourg. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: What were your dreams when you were young?
Robert de Luxembourg: Like all of us, I had all kinds of different dreams depending on my age and some of them were realistic and some were less so.

LUX: Not many owners of Bordeaux First Growths lived in the US and were scouted as screen writers by Stephen Spielberg.
Robert de Luxembourg: I lived in the US only because I went to university there for a short while (at Georgetown) in Washington DC. I was there for under two years. We’ve always had family properties in Maine up in the north-east where I go every summer. Afterwards, thanks to my future wife, we became involved in screenwriting. She was very keen and had done some courses and was working on some ideas and had written a couple of films before I became involved with her, and we wrote a first speculative script when we were living all over the place, including France and driving around. That was the one that was picked up by Creative Artists in Los Angeles and we were signed as young writers; there was interest from Spielberg in that script but we ended up auctioning it to Columbia Pictures and then we worked with different people on it including Peters Entertainment, Original Film and David Heyman. We would come and go. Creative Artists would set up two weeks of meetings for us; and then Columbia and David actually hired us to write another screenplay.

Read more: Penélope Cruz on designing jewellery for Swarovski

LUX: Does a bit of you wish you’d carried on?
Robert de Luxembourg: You can’t do everything in life, and what appealed to me initially about that was I was working with my future wife, and then the realities of our lives made it a bit more complex. I loved the purely creative process. But I have been able to enjoy that in the work that I do in the wine industry throughout all kinds of different projects, whether it’s in the wine estates’ architectural projects or whether it’s developing business ideas. My need, I have come to understand over time, is to be able to develop projects and to basically be able to tell a story and then see that story come to life. So, I have been continuing to write these stories even if they are virtual and seeing them come to life whether it is at Le Clarence or La Cave du Château, or whether it is creating our wholesale business plans.

Vintage photograph men in wine cellar

Seymour Weller and Douglas Dillon, respectively nephew and son of Clarence Dillon. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: Was it always inevitable you would go into the family business?
Robert de Luxembourg: In 1993 it was clear that we needed to have the involvement of a young family member in the business. My mother was older and my stepfather, her husband, who was also managing director of the company, was also older, so there was a definite need to bring in new blood. At the time my writing was going well, so I spoke to my grandfather because I could see my career moving away from the family business, and I said, “I’ve been led to believe that there might be interest in me becoming involved. If that is the case, it’s really going to be now or never”. I had moved back to Europe, I was starting a family, I had bought a property and was building a house and all the rest of it, and so I was physically present and I could do it.

I didn’t know to what degree it would become such a central part of my life or how time consuming it would be at the time, but I said to him I don’t just want to be a caretaker if I become involved. I didn’t want to be involved for the glory of being associated with a wonderful story which is Haut-Brion, but to look after the business and develop it, and so he agreed with that, and then I became involved.

wood-panelled library

The library at Château Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon

LUX: What was your plan when you started?
Robert de Luxembourg: I had to deal with the most basic things, like branding for example. I also wanted to make sure that we had as much focus on La Mission Haut-Brion [the sister property of Château Haut-Brion, regarded by many experts as equally good] as Haut-Brion so that they were both treated as equals. The business had always been a folly, never a business, we never took any money out of it. It was really just about making exceptional wine. I recognised that was not going to be a way that we could maintain family ownership over the generations. You have to also have a vision, you have to also be able to develop the business, and eventually down the road have a realistic income stream for future beneficiaries.

The story we had to tell was just extraordinary. We wanted to communicate it properly to the outside world, including that Haut-Brion has the most extraordinary wine history of any of the estates in Bordeaux, and we didn’t talk about it enough. Haut-Brion’s red wine as we know it today was basically invented by the Pontac family, and we had this extraordinary story of how the first vines were planted there probably in the first century AD, whereas the Médoc [the main red wine region of the left bank of Bordeaux] was only developed in the 17th century, so 1,600 years later. We were really the birthplace of the great wines of Bordeaux.

Read more: Designer Ali Behnam-Bakhtiar on bringing dream worlds to life

The Pontac family started all of these technological advancements, meaning they were able to develop the new French claret (red Bordeaux wine) that became famous thanks to their extraordinary marketing tool of opening up the Pontac’s Head tavern in London in 1666 after the great fire of London, where all of the cognoscenti at the time would go; everyone from John Locke and Isaac Newton to John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys would be there.

Since then, there has been the development of a new wine estate, Quintus, which really came into existence in 2011, so next year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. And then the creation of Clarendelle [high-quality entry-level white, rosé, red and sweet wines]. And that was an easy story for me to tell. I was a young man looking for a great bottle of wine that had a little bit of age on it where I wasn’t going to have to break the bank and have to store in a cellar in London because I didn’t have one. I could buy extraordinary aged Spanish wines or even some Italian wines but I couldn’t find anything from Bordeaux that had the regularity or quality at that price point. That’s where that idea came from.

LUX: With something like Le Clarence, the two Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris that opened in 2015, how do you decide that something which might be interesting to do will also be a good business?
Robert de Luxembourg:  There’s a little bit of a field-of-dreams scenario in some cases in that if you build something then they will come. Le Clarence was inspired by the Pontac family opening up this extraordinary restaurant in London in 1666 where they introduced the new French wines of Haut-Brion. It became the most hyped-up meeting spot in that city, and I also thought if they can do that in 1666 after the Great Fire of London, we could open something up in the heart of the most visited city in the world, Paris, a few feet from the most visited shopping street in the world, the Champs-Élysées. If they were successful then, why not now?

chef in the kitchen

fine dining

Le Clarence chef Christophe Pelé (above) and a dish of sea urchin with nasturtium. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

My wife told me I was absolutely crazy but I said why not do something a little bit different, I would like to design it myself, decorate it myself, build the team around it myself and do something that’s unlike anything else that’s out there. Because I could see the way that people would react when I would invite them to Haut-Brion; they would come to the château for lunch and you could see that people were charmed by that experience. It’s a home, it’s a family story, it’s a historical story and no one else can tell that story but us.

Today it is easy to find perfection in all of these designer restaurants in great hotels around the world that are designed by the same people oftentimes. But I think what’s truly priceless is finding a soul and also finding a perfection in imperfection.

LUX: And what about the idea of starting a wine shop in a city, Paris, that has no shortage of them?
Robert de Luxembourg: Once again, it was about how do you create a unique experience. You can see what Hedonism Wines did in London for example. You didn’t have a lack of wine shops in London yet what Hedonism did was unique and founded a new customer base. Also, Sotheby’s have done an amazing job with their wine shop in Manhattan. La Cave du Château is very specifically focused on the best French produce. My first job was writing letters to about 500 wine producers in France asking them and begging them if they could give us a few bottles to sell directly from the estate. And then creating an environment that was beautiful.

La Cave has developed into an e-tailer, a rather exciting new development that has been a lifesaver for us over the last few months.

Wine cellar

La Cave du Château. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

LUX: Walking around La Cave and Le Clarence, you feel that they are more private clubs than commercial entities.
Robert de Luxembourg: Ha, yes, I know, it does not look very commercial. But once again, that’s the ultimate luxury. You don’t want to be going to a place where you are right next to other people. For a lot of these people today the ultimate luxury is being comfortable, you don’t want to be overheard by the next table, you want to be in a place where you have space and a sense of privacy. The premise was to receive people the way we receive people at the château in Bordeaux, and to have a place where, before you go down to lunch, you can go and sit in the living room and have a glass of champagne, and after dinner you can go up and have a brandy as you would in the château, and if you want to go outside and have a cigar you can do so.

LUX: And we know you have more plans…
Robert de Luxembourg: Yes, we will be opening up private dining rooms in Bordeaux, with a visitors’ centre. We will have a new Cave du Château which we’ll open up in our visitors’ centre, managed by our retail arm. We will have multiple private dining rooms there, and they can have an experience like the one they can have at Le Clarence but with an extraordinary wine shop downstairs, right within the vineyards of Haut-Brion.

Wine glass and bottle

Château Haut-Brion’s acclaimed 1985 vintage. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

Prince Robert de Luxembourg’s desert island wines: Château Haut-Brion 1945, Château Haut-Brion 1989, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1955, Château Haut-Brion Blanc 1989, Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc 2009, Château Quintus 2019

LUX: With Château Haut-Brion, you are the guardian of one of the world’s great luxury brands. How does that feel?
Robert de Luxembourg: I’d like to say it’s the greatest! I don’t know – it depends how you define a brand. I am not arrogant because I am not responsible for it.

LUX: Traditionally, awareness of the great Bordeaux wines was handed down from parent to child – unfortunately, usually father to son. Now there are so many new markets – how do you pass the message on to the latest generation of wine lovers, and how do you ensure that the status of the brand is clear?
Robert de Luxembourg: It’s a challenge for us. When I first got into this space, a real wine lover in New York or Singapore or Hong Kong would say how exceptional our wines were. But none of our competitors had the regularity of the past century that we had at Haut-Brion. That was something not really known by the greater public, and it was something I felt we needed to work on.

We continue to be active and interact with people. We were the first First Growth to have our own server and website in China or have a YouTube channel or a WeChat account for our wholesale business, or to open up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for our vineyards.

You will probably remember that it was considered that luxury brands should not be represented in this space, and it took away from the experience. I disagree with that because I think if you controlled the way you do it you can reach this audience, especially a young audience. Our client base was changing and we needed to adapt to the youth.

chateau building

The chapel of Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

LUX: And what about the wines themselves? There are commentators who say wine now is better than it has ever been because of advances in winemaking techniques. And others who say that, for example, the 1945 vintage is still the best ever made.
Robert de Luxembourg: The 1945 is the finest Haut-Brion that I have had the pleasure of enjoying. I have only had it about three times in my life. We sold the last eight bottles for charity about ten years ago, and we have none left.

But the unfortunate truth is that global warming has been beneficial to the regularity of quality with wines we’ve produced, alongside the technological advances. If you look at a temperature chart of south-western France over the years, and the heat of those particular years, you will note that the better vintages like the 1945 and 1989 are always the hottest vintages. I don’t want to take anything away from our winemakers and their work, but their work is easier dealing with a 1945, 1959 or a 1961 vintage.

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Yes, it is helped by technology and science, and also by massive investment. We have been in a golden period for the great wines of Bordeaux, and so we have made more money and thus are able to invest more money in all of our businesses and we always try and push the envelope and do better every year. And then we’ve had the arrival of the wine critics who have always encouraged and helped us to a degree, because we have people looking over our shoulder so you can’t get it wrong today. So, yes, I don’t think we have ever made better wines over a period of time than over the past two decades, and our climate conditions have greatly helped us.

LUX: Many wine lovers, after starting their First Growth cellar with the likes of Château Lafite and Château Margaux, eventually gravitate towards Château Haut-Brion. Why?
Robert de Luxembourg:As a wine lover, and I consider myself to be a wine lover before a wine producer, you tend to gravitate away from things that are easier to understand towards things that are more subtle and more difficult to understand.

And that is a disadvantage for Haut-Brion when you are doing a blind tasting and you are not eating and your more easily able on a cerebral level to recognise bulky and more fruit-filled wines. As you age and you become more educated, you want to have a different experience I think you look for something that sets off multiple parts of your gustatory experience, hitting certain spots you are not able to reach with other wines. It’s the same with a painting or a piece of music.

You might find it shocking and enjoyable to see a Pop art piece but over time you maybe gravitate towards something that’s a little bit more complex and has a little bit more depth, with more layers. And Haut-Brion is an intellectual wine because of the terroir, but also because of the way the wine is produced. We have always had that at Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. They are wines that are more difficult to understand, but when you want to grow as a taster, they are remarkable wines. You see that people eventually gravitate towards lighter extraordinary wines, and great Burgundies which I love also, and I think that is also explained by seeking out something very subtle, elegant and complex.

LUX: What are the unique opportunities and challenges of running a family wine business?
Robert de Luxembourg: Already just being in the world of wine, there is the notion that we aren’t doing anything for tomorrow. A decision that I will make to pull up a parcel of vines and replant it will probably still benefit my grandchildren if they are lucky enough to be involved in the business. We don’t anticipate being able to have a short-term return on many of these projects. We didn’t take a penny out of the business for the first six decades of running this company. It really was a folly of my great-grandfather [Clarence Dillon, who acquired Château Haut-Brion in 1935] that was then inherited by his children.

Today we can’t just sit on our laurels and think that we are managing a jewel of today and being proud of being the wardens or owners of this jewel. We have to have a business that makes sense for future generations and shows some evolutionary growth because otherwise you will immediately get frustrations from the generations to come that build up, and we know how that ends. So that’s a big part of it, great people keeping great people on board, sharing that message with them, making sure they buy into that and we’ve been able to do that with all our companies.

We’ve had relative stability across the board with the teams of people that I work with. Take Jean-Philippe Delmas, a third-generation winemaker at our estate. His family arrived at Haut-Brion in 1923, so they are about to celebrate their century with us, but his is one of multiple families that have been with us for generations.

country estate

Château Haut-Brion. Courtesy of Domaine Clarence Dillon.

Winemaker and Deputy General Manager Jean-Philippe Delmas on the greatest wines from the Domaine Clarence Dillon estates

Château Quintus red 2011
We acquired this property in June 2011, so this is a first vintage. It is located on a promontory overlooking the Dordogne valley at the south-west end of Saint-Émilion. This wine is blended equally between Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s a sublime marriage of the finesse and elegance of Cabernet Franc with the power, colour and sweetness of Merlot.

Château Haut-Brion red 1989
Certainly the greatest success of all the wines produced by my father. Its harmony is close to perfection with a breathtaking intensity and aromatic complexity combining cedar, eucalyptus, mint, roasting and Havana. The whole tannic structure is coated, giving this wine an unexpected sweetness. This vintage remains and will remain a reference.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion red 2003
This is a vintage when the summer was scorching, so we started the red harvest in mid-August, working at sunrise at the coolest time of the day with refrigerated trucks to preserve the freshness until the vat. It is one of the few Mission vintages where there is a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon. The magic of this terroir does the rest with an incredibly fresh wine.

Château Quintus red 2019
This is the latest addition to this beautiful property in Saint-Émilion. After almost a decade of meticulous work, we have succeeded in creating not only a new brand, but also a new wine with its own identity. Over the years, we have patiently drawn the personality of this wine and have achieved our goal with this vintage.

Château Haut-Brion red 1929
Of all the vintages made by my grandfather, this is the greatest. Even today, this wine has an amazing youth. The great density of this wine has allowed it to travel back in time. It has all the characteristics of the great wines that this terroir can produce – an aromatic signature, elegance and inimitable silky touch.

Château La Mission Haut-Brion red 2009
2009 seems to me to be the modern version of the legendary 1989. In this wine, we find all the characteristics of La Mission, with very rich, deep, spherical and coated wines. This wine charms you with its precision, a tannic structure counterbalanced by sweetness akin to velvet.

Find out more:

This article features in the Autumn Issue, which will be published later this month.

Reading time: 20 min
Exterior deck of yacht
Exterior deck of yacht

The Princess Yachts’ X95 flybridge

Antony Sheriff has transformed the fortunes of Bernard Arnault’s yachtmaker Princess, creating boats that are stylish, in demand and environmentally innovative, for a new generation of consumer. LUX gets his story
Business man on yacht

Antony Sheriff

“It’s the sports car of the range. The hull reduces drag by 30 per cent, and it has sports-car-like performance and a Pininfarina design.” Princess Yachts CEO Antony Sheriff is enthusing over a projection of the R35, his company’s cool-looking 35-foot yacht, the latest in a series of innovations he has overseen in what is fast becoming known as the most dynamic yachtmaker in the world.

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“Sometimes,” he says, “if you are doing something new and are innovating, customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them.” Sheriff has been responsible for a number of innovations at the company, which is owned by LVMH-owner Bernard Arnault through his private equity company L Catterton, both on the product side and on partnerships.

yacht bedroom

Superyacht on ocean

The stateroom (above) and exterior of X95 yacht

In 2016 he launched a collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, aimed at helping clean up ocean plastics, conserve coral and aid the conservation of marine creatures such as turtles. The Italian-American, who in his previous job launched McLaren’s hybrid P1 hypercar as CEO of the company’s road-car division, is disarmingly straight talking. “We are an industry which makes beautiful products, but we haven’t always been that mindful of the effects they have. We wanted to do something quietly to reduce the impact of yachts on the sea.”

He says the impetus has not – yet – come from the market, but from his own initiative. “We are trying to do the right thing and would rather be on the front foot than the back foot. People enjoy yachting because of the beautiful environment, and we need to try and maintain the water in the state we found it in.”

Read more: Chelsea Barracks is redefining London’s garden squares

Sheriff says that, as with cars, the need to innovate for environmental reasons has actually ended up bringing better products to market. He points to the example of the X95, which has up to 40 per cent more space than its predecessor while using 30 per cent less fuel and matching it in performance; and the Y95, another super-slick collaboration with Italian design house Pininfarina, which seems to have taken up its unparalleled design of luxury modes of transport where it left off with Ferrari after the end of a collaboration there spanning decades.

yacht on a waterway

The R35 performance sports yacht

Sheriff is a little scathing about some of the bloated products on offer from other yachtmakers, and adds: “We are putting the elegance and refinement back in yacht design, creating yachts that look like they belong on the ocean.”

Ultimately, though, he says the biggest change during his tenure since 2016 has been the change in the nature of the consumer. “Increasingly people are buying yachts not as status symbols but as places to spend a wonderful time with family and friends. You go on a family vacation in a yacht and it’s the best vacation possible: the kids stay together with you for fantastic family time, they can’t run away to the nightclub, and you get to spend time with each other in private in a beautiful place.” And, if some of the latest Pininfarina designs continue in the same vein, on a beautiful place, too.

Find out more:

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

Reading time: 3 min
Model Emily Ratajkowski pictured wearing white suit surrounded by photographers
Designer Karl Lagerfeld pictured with LVMH's Delphine Arnault at a drinks party

LVMH’s Delphine Arnault with Karl Lagerfeld at the LVMH Prize 2018 cocktail reception ©François GOIZE

The LVMH prize is the most prestigious and desirable award for any emerging designer. Lauren Cochrane reports from Paris on the mix of established and new and the ideas bubbling around a competition aimed at discovering the next John Galliano or Alexander McQueen

This spring, as Paris Fashion Week swirled around them, some of the industry’s highest profile names – JW Anderson, Nicolas Ghesquière, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Bella Hadid, Suzy Menkes and Karl Lagerfeld included – found a moment in their busy diaries. The reason? The shortlisting of the LVMH Prize. Over two days, with LVMH’s Delphine Arnault, fashion’s brightest and best whittled a shortlist of 20 semi-finalists down to just nine. After an additional round of judging, the final winner is announced in June.

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In the four short years since its launch, the LVMH Prize has become the most prestigious in fashion. Each winner is given a grant of 300,000 euros and access to mentoring from LVMH experts to develop their business. Winners so far have included minimalist Thomas Tait and Grace Wales Bonner, the visionary of London’s menswear scene. Simon Porte Jacquemus, a designer mooted for the top job at Lanvin, was a special prize winner in 2015. Marine Serre, 2017’s winner, has already caused a stir. After her debut show in March, the New York Times said she had come “far, fast”, while Vogue called her collection “terrific”.

Fashion designer pictured with female model wearing her collection

Designer Snow Xue Gao with model ©François GOIZE

Of course, fashion insiders will take note of anything that comes with the LVMH name attached. With Bernard Arnault at the head, it is the biggest luxury group in the world, taking in a record 42.6 billion euros in 2017 across brands including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Givenchy. The impact of LVMH’s endorsement and mentoring (not to mention that cash injection) on a young designer’s career cannot be underestimated. Serre, speaking to Vogue, said what the win meant: “It was possible for us to really take things to a whole new level”, allowing her to hire new staff and expand into a new studio space. Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida echo this. “We suddenly had the exposure, the support and the funding to put into existence a lot of the things we always wanted to do, and grow the company,” they said in an email. “This is what the foundations of our label is built on and what the company is today.” Winning the LVMH Prize can turn a fledgling operation into a bona fide brand.

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Jean-Paul Claverie, advisor to Bernard Arnault, was instrumental in setting up the Prize in 2014 and he sits on the jury. The Director of Corporate Sponsorship at LVMH, he describes the prize as a way for “young designers to value creativity first”. LVMH are committed to that pledge. Designers are only eligible if they have shown two collections or fewer, and there is an in-house team that works specifically on the prize, selecting the final 20 designers who go before the jury. Relationships continue beyond the competition process, too. “We stay in touch with many of the winners and we are ready to help if they have a problem,” says Claverie. “The door is always open.”

Menswear designer Charles Jeffrey pictured in red chequered suit in front of rail of clothing

Menswear designer Charles Jeffrey ©François GOIZE

Each year the number of applications has grown, with 1,300 in 2018, including designers from South Korea, China and countries in Africa. Among the 20 semi-finalists there was A Cold Wall, the London-based label by Samuel Ross, New York’s Eckhaus Latta, who put a pregnant woman on their catwalk in September, Charles Jeffrey’s artistic take on menswear and five gender-neutral labels including Faustine Steinmetz, GMBH and The Sirius. Of these, Ross, Jeffrey and Eckhaus Latta made it into the final nine, alongside Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh of Botter, Masayuki Ino of Doublet, Lea Dickely and Hung La of Kwaidan Editions, Rok Hwang of Rokh, Matthew Adams Dolan, and Ludovic de Saint Sernin.

Model Emily Ratajkowski pictured wearing white suit surrounded by photographers

Model Emily Ratajkowski at the LVMH Prize 2018 cocktail reception ©Virgile_Guinard

Delphine Arnault pictured with French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld

Delphine Arnault (right)
with Carine Roitfeld ©François GOIZE

Established figures in fashion always enjoy meeting the next generation. Jury member Sidney Toledano, chairman and CEO of the Fashion Group at LVMH, says that he was excited after listening to the designers’ presentations. “I was so amazed by the energy,” he says. “I felt it myself, and it was after a long day of shows. I saw how excited Karl [Lagerfeld] was. His antenna tells him they’re talented. I think he had fun.”

Of course, the Prize is not without its advantages for LVMH. It means they effectively have first dibs on the next generation of talent. Toledano believes this has been at the heart of the LVMH culture since Arnault became the majority share holder in 1989. “It’s something he repeats daily – he wants creativity and quality, with an evolution.”

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It’s clear the winner is chosen carefully, and with much debate. “At the start of the process, we think that one applicant will be the winner and then, later, it turns out to be someone else entirely,” says Claverie. “I love discussion,” adds Toledano. “I hope we have two or three potential winners and we don’t know what to do.”

Claverie says that business acumen is a plus, along with determination – he praises Jacquemus for applying again after his first unsuccessful attempt. Ultimately, it is vision that characterises a winner: “The creativity is first… they are expressing something new.” Toledano says this is a quest for the next names to know. “It is not a philanthropic project,” he explains. “All the brands we have are based on the success of a designer. It was Monsieur Dior as a designer who created the magic of the Dior name.” Toledano compares designers to pilots. “An engine is needed to sustain a big name,” he says. “OK, from time to time, if you stop the engine, the plane is so high you can continue flying, but if you are a top brand you need [someone] in the cockpit, providing the momentum.” The LVMH Prize? The most stylish take on aviation college there is. Time to watch the latest graduates take flight.

To meet this year’s finalists, and for further announcements visit

This article appears in the Summer 2018 issue of LUX, on sale now worldwide.




Reading time: 5 min
luxury hand bags Moynat boutique

Guillaume Davin is CEO of Moynat, the uber-luxe leather goods brand established privately by Bernard Arnault as a rival to Hermes. Moynat is not part of Arnault’s LVMH group, and the brand is run as a boutique global atelier. In the second part of our series on luxury leaders, Davin, previously a Louis Vuitton veteran, speaks to LUX about conquering the East, and how to keep a brand’s mystique

CEO of Moynat, Guillaume Davin

CEO of Moynat, Guillaume Davin

LUX: Is Moynat a new luxury brand or an old one reimagined?
Guillaume Davin: Moynat is a House that is more than 160 years old, in which we have infused a new soul. We have been giving new life to a great name, staying focused and true to the essence and heritage of the Maison. This is not merely a renovation of what existed. The result is something that is true to our heritage but relevant to the present.

LUX: What is your consumer craving, that you provide?
Guillaume Davin: We create objects that contribute to fine living, objects which will become known for their craftsmanship, endurance, discretion, elegance and their innovative design rather than bowing to the trends of the day. A Moynat bag is of today and also timeless: always beautiful, always relevant. Moynat appeals to people who are independent in their tastes and choices and not influenced by fads, but looking for beautifully made objects.

Read more in this series: Interview with Javad Marandi, global investor

LUX: The luxury conversation has turned towards ‘experiences’. How does a purveyor of goods provide luxury experiences?
Guillaume Davin: When you enter a Moynat boutique, you discover a new world, you learn about natural leather and traditional techniques such as leather marquetry, angle stitching, wood sculpting, painting… We also feel that the purchase of a beautiful bag should be linked to a moment of your life, such as a memorable visit to Paris for example. Luxury is not just about the object you purchase but your personal connection to the brand and to the story that it tells. That is why we tell the story of our brand and of each product so that is becomes intimate and real for each of our clients.

LUX: Are stores still essential to the luxury experience?
Guillaume Davin: Our clients are looking for the human touch and are very attached to the service they receive. Our team is kind, friendly and passionate; they know our heritage, the leather, the craftsmen, our creative Director… they focus on building relationships and communicating our values. Our visitors can understand who we really are. You need to see our vintage trunks, touch the leather. The Moynat experience is very sensorial and cannot be fully transmitted in a virtual environment. Our products are quite sophisticated and one of our strengths is personalisation and customisation.

LUX: Your personal journey involves a deep understanding of Japan. How does Japan fit in the luxury world now that China is so dominant?
Guillaume Davin: Japan is a place where tradition meets innovation. The Japanese people respect tradition but love innovation: they actually hate change but love newness, a paradox! They protect their ancient crafts, ceramics, lacquer, textiles, woodwork, but expect the artisans to fuse modernity with ancient skills. It is a culture that has an eye for quality and a refined sensibility, which is a perfect fit for Moynat. China is often considered a newcomer to the luxury market, however our customers are just as discerning and sophisticated. We just opened our first boutique in Tokyo in March; it is as exciting to introduce Moynat to the Japanese as it is to bring Moynat to China.

LUX: What does it take to be CEO of a brand owned by your proprietor?
Guillaume Davin: Mr Arnault is a passionate explorer and a competitive entrepreneur. He decided to revive Moynat out of a “coup de coeur”. Moynat is a personal project for Mr Arnault, not a part of LVMH, so we are very different from the group in every sense, from size to way of functioning. Mr Arnault gives Ramesh the creative freedom to express his vision and Ramesh in turn challenges the craftsmen to express their talents.

LUX: Media and advertising has been so central to LVMH brands. Moynat stands apart – how do you do it and is it a challenge?
Guillaume Davin: We have been lucky to have clients who are have been our ambassadors. Their word of mouth has been the best and most authentic marketing tool that we could imagine. We use the best of social media (such as Instagram and Twitter ) to share our stories and life as a way of direct contact with our clients and friends.

hand bags by Moynat luxury boutique

The recently opened Moynat boutique on Madison Avenue in Manhattan

LUX: How do you see the climate for your products developing?
Guillaume Davin: We are seeing a return to the true meaning of luxury, where the product is invested with meaning and true rarity. Our clients are happy not to be just a cog in a machine, but to own something truly precious, authentic, timeless, historical, a product that requires time and patience.

LUX: What excites you most about opportunities going forward?
Guillaume Davin: We are growing in an organic way with total control on our manufacturing and quality. This is a challenge but also a great opportunity, to find new trends in social media to connect with people who share our vision of luxury and are looking for new, authentic experiences. We have to tailor the experience we offer to each market, and at the same time keep a common core that is constant and true to the spirit of Moynat.

LUX: What does your travel schedule involve? Why do you love doing what you do?
Guillaume Davin: Along with growth comes non-stop travel, which is exciting as well as exacting, because you can see the results of every decision on different markets. Each day brings its challenges, which is what keeps us passionate about our work. Being a marathon runner, I am in it for the long haul.

Reading time: 5 min


Moynat could justifiably claim to be the world’s most luxurious bag maker, but it doesn’t. It is both historic and brand new. It is owned by the greatest luxury tycoon in history, who doesn’t talk about it. Darius Sanai gets an exclusive insight into the luxury brand of the future with its CEO and its creative director in their Paris flagship store

“Luxury is the time taken to make something. It’s about the effort put in to every element of making something, it’s not just about a label or a brand. It’s about taking it to the limit of the best that I can be proud of.”

Ramesh Nair is talking animatedly in a hushed boutique on the Rue St Honoré in Paris. If luxury were a religion (and it might be) the St Honoré would be its equivalent of the Vatican: where pilgrims the world over come to worship. The striking, sweeping boutique we are in, with its open, circular design and leather goods displayed as artworks on plinths and up walls, is metres from the global flagships of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Chanel.

Nair’s colleague Guillaume Davin takes up the thread. “From the very beginning, we felt the object had to be beautiful, so beautiful. This house is only about superior craftsmanship; we concentrated on the product and only the product because that was all there was.”

For Davin, a former highly successful marketeer, this is a striking statement in itself. But everything about Davin and Nair’s business is striking. We are at the flagship (and to date, only) store of a very particular luxury brand, Moynat. And if you haven’t heard of Moynat yet, prepare to be very surprised.

The heritage archive trunks are displayed alongside the modern-day creations

The heritage archive trunks are displayed alongside the modern-day creations

Wander up to the Moynat store on the Faubourg St Honoré unaware, and you would be forgiven for being a little intrigued, or even confused. You would be correct in assuming you hadn’t heard of it because it hasn’t spent a cent on advertising or product placement: which puts it among numerous tiny niche brands trying to carve a place out for themselves in a growing market with limited budgets.

But the huge, striking storefront on the most prime piece of retail real estate in the world is not something that a niche brand could possibly contemplate. Equally, the artistry and the scale of the shopfit and arrangement inside seems too perfect, more museum of contemporary luxury, than something a non-advertising niche brand could manage.

Take a closer look at the goods on display. Pick up one of the signature Pauline bags, for example. The leather is lustrous, thick, unblemished, perfectly grained, and all of one piece. The detailing shows the bag is plainly hand-made, and yet it is also perfect, minimal, classic contemporary. No niche operation could source leather of what is plainly Hermès standard, in unmarked single pieces big enough, and find the craftsmen to create them.

And yet everything about Moynat’s marketing, or lack of it, is entirely niche. It is not affiliated with any other brand; it sells through word of mouth only; it has no ambitious store opening program, and not a single celebrity has been given one of its products. Somehow, though, uber-model Natalia Vodianova and Chanel creative guru Karl Lagerfeld both proudly display their Moynat bags.

For Moynat is the new private brainchild of Bernard Arnault, Chairman of LVMH, the world’s biggest luxury goods conglomerate and unarguably the most important luxury tycoon in history. Arnault owns Louis Vuitton, Dior, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Lanvin, Bulgari, Loro Piana, Dom Perignon, Veuve Cliquot, Château Cheval Blanc and numerous other brands at the top of the luxury tree (most of them through his holding in the LVMH parent company).

But Moynat is different. Conceived in 2010, launched in 2011, but dating back to 1849, Moynat is a trunk and bag maker — a malletier, in French — taken by Arnault, privately, and revived and relaunched by him for the 21st century. It is, plainly, a vehicle for Arnault to conquer the very highest peaks of the luxury market, currently claimed only by Hermès, the family-owned company he would love to get his hands on, but can only (currently) hold on to a 23.1 per cent stake in. Moynat is the attempt by the greatest entrepreneur in luxury to create the most rarefied — not the biggest, or the best known, or widest-selling, but simply the best — brand in luxury.

Nair and Davin are leading the charge for Arnault. Nair, formerly of Hermès and Maison Martin Margiela, is the creative director, charged with oversight of the designs and the small atelier in the French countryside where Moynat products are currently made. Davin, as CEO, is in overall charge. Formerly the highly respected director of Louis Vuitton in Japan, he says he had left LVMH when a call came out of the blue from Arnault.

Moynat re-opens its doors at 348 rue Saint Honoré

Moynat re-opens its doors at 348 rue Saint Honoré

“The very beginning for me was Spring 2010, when I got a first call from Monsieur Arnault, and he said he wanted me to come to Paris to see something,” says Davin. We are sitting in the salon privé of Moynat on its upper floor, enclosed from the tide of luxury on the street outside.

“He was not very…he did not disclose the name, he did not disclose the project, it sounded like a precious house or a little gem, and he had just bought the name. And he was undecided about doing something, but he wanted to just share some of the elements about the archives of the house.

“So I came to Paris to see what he had to show, and of course I did not recognise the name. Moynat was really a forgotten house, and only trunk and vintage car collectors knew about the house. They also had one concave-based trunk (in the archive), and you know, I had spent a few years at Vuitton and I had never seen this. And then I heard the house was founded and run by a woman, I started understanding the feminine side of the trunk, and I felt, oh, there is something different. And the fact that the house was a bit older than Vuitton or Goyard was also very interesting.”

Arnault had bought the name and archive of a defunct Parisian trunk maker, so long gone that not even his own directors at Vuitton knew its name: but Moynat had proper heritage. In the Belle Epoque era of the early 20th century, archives showed it was one of the most desirable trunk and bag makers in the world. “It started with a little atelier in 1849,” says Davin. “In 1854 — that’s before Louis Vuitton is even created — Moynat patented a waterproof trunk using materials from Indonesia.”

Nair takes up the tale of the creation of the modern Moynat from when he joined, recruited by Davin in 2010 from a senior craft position at Hermès. “It all seems to be a bit of blur now! Monsieur Arnault wanted to open the store at the end of 2011, so we had just a year to work everything out. So I had to quickly come up with something, study as much as possible, collate the archives because we really didn’t have anything much, so I feel that we needed a strong base, we needed the roots to really come up with everything and be authentic.

“I’m a minimalist, and I find ideas everywhere. For instance, Pauline (the signature bag) became the profile of a trunk… I, a purist, I prefer going towards high-end leathers; I love leathers, I love skins, I love the textures and the odour, so I’m more into high-end leather. And of course our construction is really, really, really good. (With my background at Hermès) when you’ve studied with the best, you cannot take a step downwards, it’s very difficult. And it’s a question that which I used to ask myself at Hermès, was ‘What next?’ Quality is something which really fascinates me; there are times when I’m still not happy enough, I still want to keep pushing, to see what more I can do.”

And were they confident from the start or were they nervous about creating a new brand for a boss as demanding as Bernard Arnault?

“We still are nervous,” says Nair. “It’s a market which I would say is almost saturated, and you’re trying to battle, I mean whatever has to be done, has been done. So you’re just reinventing the wheel, and yes, we’re always nervous. But I always feel that if you go high in, if you go with what we call the know-how, the workmanship, the savoir faire, and excellent quality, I don’t think there’s a reason you could go wrong.”

Moynat opened its first boutique in 1869 at 5, place du Théâtre Français

Moynat opened its first boutique in 1869 at 5, place du Théâtre Français

I suggest that it is unusual for Bernard Arnault, the undisputed emperor of luxury marketing, to launch a brand with no marketing at all. They both smile slightly wryly in agreement, before Davin suggests that Moynat is more a labour of love, a personal passion, a creation for the history books, for Arnault than it is another money-spinning venture.

“It is quite mysterious to people, that Monsieur Arnault is not talking about it at all. He never made any announcements, yet he keeps us under his wing. He calls like twice a day, but it’s the tiniest business he has.”

Is it about a personal desire from Arnault to create something that is simply the very best? “We think so,” nods Davin.

“It’s also I think like his little baby, and his little experiment,” says Nair. Presumably, I suggest, they have access to the vast expertise of Louis Vuitton and the rest of the LVMH group in terms of leveraging suppliers, craftspeople, sourcing hides…

“Nothing. Nothing. Nothing,” says Davin, as emphatically as one can in a hushed private space. “Even on the materials, the leather… we are on our own!” In fact, they say, it works the opposite way: some of the materials and techniques Moynat is using are so high-end and so original that they are filtering down into the LVMH brands.

“It was not like Monsieur Arnault ever pushed this and said, let’s open a store every 10 months. In a way …it’s a different M. Arnault I see here,” says Davin.

Because it’s a personal project?

“It’s a personal project. It’s very small. And he wants to take it step by step.”

Nair adds, intriguingly, “And I think also, for (Arnault), I would say, it’s the very first campaign that he’s starting from zero. A luxury house which is his own creation effectively, so he’s also interested in a very personal way, it’s almost like a baby. It’s interesting, he would see a bag and he’d say is this really good quality? Where is this leather from? Things you normally wouldn’t find a CEO asking, and he’d really be interested in knowing where the leather came from, in a certain type of finish…”

“It is a luxury startup,” agrees Davin, “but it is also for him a piece of savoir faire, a piece of the French patrimony. He is very interested, really going into questions like should the edge be a bit thicker or slimmer, or how do you polish it. He’s incredibly in tune with the little details, and these are questions, because we are so small, we can adjust from one product to another product. Ramesh will say oh let’s do a contrasted edge, or let’s do same coloured edge, and we can adjust and show different things, because it’s one craftsman doing the bag from A to Z, so if we want to just ask a different colour combination we just do one unit.

In an interesting insight into the modus operandi of the LVMH chairman, Davin points out that while Arnault is interested in the product detail of Moynat, this is not unusual.

“I have known him for a long time; I was in cosmetics (as head of Dior cosmetics in Japan), and when he was coming to Japan, we had a little lab, and he was always coming and saying ‘try using this… don’t you think this is still a bit sticky?’, or whatever. He was smelling things, he knew about it, he is obsessed with products, and the weight of the packaging. I think that one of the reason why he is so successful today, is that he has an incredible eye for products and quality. I mean, yes, Hermès is supreme quality, but I think M. Arnault has a sense of this.

“And it’s true at the same time he’s leading a group that now have so many brands, so I’m sure some times of the day he’s also focusing on other elements of the company, but he is completely driven by products and stores. He’s obsessed with what the client sees and touches. You know, when he was coming to Japan he was coming three days, and it was two and half days visiting stores and touching products. And business reviews was one hour for three brands — three hours, then finished. The numbers he can access them any time. It’s all product. Stores. And he has an opinion on absolutely every single piece, you know if he feels it’s a bit too matte, or if it’s a bit too shiny, or if there is a powdery feeling he does not like he will tell you, ‘are you sure about this? Try to show me something different next week’. I think there would be no success (for LVMH) if he was not completely obsessed, he knows that product quality is essential. So we try not to disappoint him on this that’s for sure!


“And with Moynat, Monsieur Arnault doesn’t want to advertise, he doesn’t even want us to communicate, he wants to concentrate on the products, on the atelier, on hiring more craftsman, he’s more obsessed with this — that if the product is right, the house will be right.”

And what are the products? The signature product for women (they don’t describe it as such, but it is plainly so) is the Pauline bag which comes in various sizes and can be bespoked in any colour you like; the Rejane is a smaller city bag, the Quattro more of a super-luxe tote. For men, the curved Limousine cases (as purchased by Karl Lagerfeld) are the standouts, in various sizes and styles. Up in the workshop, I also saw a couple of one-off works in progress, attaché cases and portfolios, not yet released, but which looked sublime.


And where, I wonder, are their clients from, these highly-well-heeled, highly knowledgeable customers who are so sophisticated they wish to carry a brand nobody else will recognise? “The number one nationality is the Americans,” says Davin, “but Asia is also a very big proportion. Japan is probably around 10- 12 per cent, South Korea is six or seven percent, Greater China (including Hong Kong) is around 20 per cent but mainland China is quite small, but South East Asia is big. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines. It is all word of mouth.”

And will Moynat remain the luxury world’s best-kept secret? There was a pop-up at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris this summer, and there are unconfirmed rumours that the brand will open a second and even a third store somewhere in the world in 2014. “We cannot accelerate, we are doing everything we can to hire craftsmen, to train them, but this will take time,” says Davin. “We hope that Moynat will really be a beautiful house in 10 years, or 20 years. I am not sure Monsieur Arnault is joking when he says it’s for your grandchildren.”

A privately-owned luxury house sitting atop the world of leather goods and bags, passed down the Arnault family from generation to generation, whatever happens to the megabrands of LVMH. That would be a legacy. And you can witness its birth now, on the Rue St Honoré. Just don’t tell anyone.

Reading time: 13 min