Notre-Dame de Paris

I was fortunate during my career in business to spend a lot of time in Paris. Not much was free time, but I managed to squeeze in visits to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and more – as Paris is the ultimate “walking” city. Imagine being faced with this dilemma: you are in Helsinki, Finland on a Friday in March; you finish (no pun intended) work, and are due to be in Paris on the following Monday. Would you spend the weekend in Helsinki? Or opt for Paris? Not sure why I called it a “dilemma.” Spent all of that Saturday in the Louvre. Sunday at d’Orsay.

Unfortunately, I did not see Notre-Dame de Paris from the inside, but marvelled at its beauty from the outside, and marvelled too at the length of the lines of people waiting to get inside. It was truly a sad day on April 15 with the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame.

This is some of what I missed – the magnificent stained glass – virtually irreplaceable. To me perhaps the real marvel of Notre-Dame is its history – going back nine centuries. What a remarkable feat of engineering and construction considering the tools available to man in the mid-1100’s. And then there is the procession of events – including the crowning of Napoleon as Emperor of France, the Requiem Mass of Charles de Gaulle, and who could forget Philippe Petit, who in 1971 secretly strung a wire between the towers of Notre-Dame and tight-rope-walked across it.

Notre-Dame above, with its towers, as I recall.

I will not dwell on the fire here, as much has been featured in the news. But it was reassuringly good news that President Macron of France quickly stepped forward to say that Notre-Dame would be restored to its splendour, and within five years.

It was also heart-warming to learn that in the two days following the fire, more than 845 million euros were pledged to re-build Notre-Dame. Total S.A., Apple, The Disney Company, L’Oréal, LVMH and Kering are among the prominent contributors. I thought it might be interesting to look into some of these companies. Total is a major oil and gas company; Apple and Disney we all know; and so too perhaps, L’Oréal, for its cosmetics. But what of LVMH and Kering?

LVMH, or Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton, is a French luxury goods conglomerate, and it has offered 200 million euros to help re-construct Notre-Dame. Christian Dior S.E. owns LVMH and Bernard Arnault is the Chairman of Christian Dior and Chairman and CEO of LVMH. According to Bloomberg, Monsieur Arnault is worth more than 90 billion dollars.

That is M. Arnault above, with his wife, Hélène Mercier-Arnault. M. Arnault is 70; his wife is not. Madame Mercier-Arnault is a Canadian and is a renowned concert pianist. Nice going Bernard.

You may not know LVMH as a company, but you will know some of its brands. The impressive list includes wines and spirits (Dom Perignon, Hennessy, Glenmorangie, Cloudy Bay); fashions (Dior, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Thomas Pink); watches (Bulgari, Tag Heuer); cosmetics (Guerlain, Dior); and retailing (Sephora and Le Bon Marché). And that is only a partial list.

Kering? Kering S.A. is another luxury goods manufacturer (the French seem to have a lock on luxury goods). In true French fashion, Kering divides its businesses into “Houses,” which sounds so civilized and so much better than “Subsidiaries.” So Kering has the “House of Gucci,” and the “House of Saint Laurent.” Then there are Alexander McQueen, Boucheron and Brioni. Thirty years ago I walked into the Brioni store in New York, looking for a blazer. The one I liked was 1600 bucks. Fortunately, Macy’s was just a short cab ride away.

The Chairman and CEO of Kering is François-Henri Pinault. M. Pinault is reportedly worth about 31 billion dollars. He is married to the actress, Salma Hayek.

M. Pinault and Ms. Hayek above. Not to be unkind, but his tux looks to be off-the-rack. She looks just fine.

M. Pinault however, came up with 100 million euros for Notre-Dame.

In the photo following are Liliane Bettencourt and her daughter Françoise Bettencourt Meyers. Madame Bettencourt passed away in 2017, leaving her fortune to her daughter, thus making Madame Bettancourt Meyers the richest woman in the world. The Bettencourt family has long owned L’Oréal, the leading global cosmetics company. There is a lot of interesting history with the Bettencourts and for fear of having my “blogue’ read like a gossip column about the rich and famous, I will shut it down here. But kudos to the Bettencourts and L’Oréal for pledging 200 million euros for Notre-Dame.

Well, maybe one more thing.

In 1831 the French novelist, Victor Hugo, wrote “Notre-Dame de Paris” (which we know as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), hoping to raise awareness and funds for a restoration of the cathedral, as it had fallen into disrepair. Hugo wrote, “it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant , before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.” He was successful in his activism and soon thereafter restorative work began.

Above, Charles Laughton in the 1939 movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” There have been numerous movies made of the Hugo novel, including an animated Disney version. But the Laughton version wears well.