Spotlight: Delphine Arnault Gancia - A sixth sense for retail

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Every industry has its string-pullers, its shadowy figures, and influencers. They are just not always 32 years old, 5ft 10in tall, blonde, superbly dressed – and obscure. Yet such has been the achievement of Delphine Arnault Gancia, ever since, at age 28, she became the youngest member of the board of Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the world’s largest luxury conglomerate and one controlled by her father, Bernard Arnault.

This week, as always during Paris Fashion Week, she will be at his side for many of the LVMH shows (their brands include Givenchy, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Galliano, Celine, and Loewe). At some she may even be in his place, as she was last week in Milan at the Pucci and Fendi shows. Sitting with her husband of two years, Alessandro Gancia, the pair were swarmed by paparazzi as though they were film stars. For increasingly, Ms Arnault Gancia is becoming a public face of the company, representing management, for example, at the Pucci 60th anniversary gala in Italy last summer.

The latter was perhaps no surprise given that Ms Arnault Gancia now sits on the board of Pucci as well as of Loewe, the Spanish brand LVMH bought in 1996. What may be more surprising, however, is the real power she wields in these positions. “She loves to work,” says Laudomia Pucci, image director of Pucci. Indeed, recently Ms Arnault Gancia has helped continue the English design revolution at LVMH that her father orchestrated in the 1990s when he was building his empire.

Then he lured John Galliano across the English Channel to Givenchy and then Dior, following him quickly with Alexander McQueen (who is no longer with the company) and, more recently, Matthew Williamson, creative director of Pucci. This summer, Ms Arnault Gancia was part of bringing Stuart Vevers (late of Mulberry) to Loewe. When the current Loewe designer, Jose Enrique Ona Selfa, presents his final collection this week in Paris, analysts will be watching her expressions for clues as to what else from the runway might go.

“She loves fashion and relates to it 100 per cent,” says Ms Pucci. “When she comes to the showroom, she is very focused on the details of the products.”

Another insider says: “She stays out of the day-to-day operational issues of these companies, but is very involved in the product and designer sides. She’s a strategist, and is clearly being groomed for a senior job in the holding company.”

In spite of all this, Ms Arnault Gancia has flown under the radar. This is partly due to a certain family protectionism – an acquaintance from school days remembers Ms Arnault Gancia being a sheltered adolescent – and partly to the fact that the brands she is involved in are relatively small players in the LVMH stable when compared with Louis Vuitton. Both Pucci and Loewe fall into the internal category of the LVMH fashion division, which is run by Pierre-Yves Roussel, who acts as another layer of management between the companies and Mr Arnault Gancia.

However, LVMH has declared its ambition to double the size of Loewe in the next five years, meaning Ms Arnault Gancia may soon move significantly closer to centre stage.

Alternately called the “iron lady”, the “wolf in the cashmere coat” and one of the “hottest billionaire heiresses”, Ms Arnault Gancia was educated at EDHEC in Paris and at London School of Economics. She is by all accounts similar to her father in her drive, her personal reticence and her approach to problem-solving.

She has been seen as a serious candidate for heir apparent since she left international management consultants McKinsey after two years to join the family company, first helping develop John Galliano’s eponymous brand and then working on product development and marketing at Dior, though fellow employees describe her as “humble” and say she is careful to play down her parental connections.

Nevertheless, her father is famously dynastic in his approach to his company. He is, after all, the third generation in his family to run the business his grandfather started – though back then it was a construction company. Ms Arnault Gancia’s younger brother, Antoine, recently became head of communications for Louis Vuitton and also joined the LVMH board. The two siblings are close, though her reputation inside the company has been as “the more serious one”.

“We were raised talking about business,” says Antoine Arnault. “It was often the topic of conversation around dinner with my father. I guess it’s like when you start playing the piano when you’re a child: you ‘naturally’ play it better than others. Well, Delphine has this gift for luxury and retail: she has a sixth sense about it.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.