Bernard Arnault, Louis Vuitton, and Me


That first Louis Vuitton Binder

The results are in and there is a significant change near the top. According to Forbes, while Jeff Bezos is still the richest person in the world ($124 BILLION) someone has passed Bill Gates ($102.9 BILLION) for the #2 spot. The second richest person in the world isn't another technology baron or royalty of any kind. It's not a mega-entertainer or mega-jock. It is Bernard Arnault!

Bernard Arnault? Um, have I been sleeping under a rock? Who the heck is Bernard Arnault and how dare the man be richer than Gates, or Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg, or the feisty ole' Queen of England?

The answer? Mr. Arnault is a businessman. To be precise he is Chairman and CEO of LVMH a French luxury goods conglomerate. That didn't mean much to me until I realized that if we are talking French luxury goods LV must stand for Louis Vuitton. And I raised a toast to him--Moet and Chandon of course, the famous Champagne is another brick in the LVMH wall. Louis and I go back quite a way.

Like most kids growing up in the East Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, I spent my youth blissfully ignorant of the brand. Maybe I recognized the trademarked logos of Gucci or Chanel, but the brown-tan pattern with the funky LV insignia was beyond me. If I had lived on campus during my years at Northwestern University I might have come across an east coast coed with a Louis evening bag, but alas I spent those years living with my parents and bagging groceries "at the Jewels." No designer goods at either place!

Then came Medical School at the University of Illinois, Chicago with its enormous class of over 400 middle-class kids like me. And into this bluish-collar mix marched three young men who didn't quite fit in. With a strut, silk shirts open to their navels and University of Michigan emblems on their backpacks, the Disco Boys had arrived. Arrived to learn to be doctors, just like the rest of us. Donna Summer was on the radio, the Hustle was the hit in New Town, and the Disco Boys were learning anatomy with me at Harrison and Polk.

And I had my exposure to true class.  Dion, the shortest and swarthiest of the three, firmly grasped a binder with a brown-tan pattern. He seemed so proud, so I asked a classmate or two why that binder was so special. One of my more upscale dissection partners (Highland Park, perhaps?) filled me in on Louis Vuitton, the status and the cost. I was appropriately impressed.

And since then? Well, I have gotten to know the LV brand. Barb has owned...a few Louis bags. Some of them have been gifts from me, but never without careful instructions from the giftee on just what to buy from the company boutique in Northbrook Court. Knock-offs? Get behind me Satan! Even in Bangkok, Thailand, the knock-off capital of the world, we couldn't find one that had the look or feel of the real thing.

As a salute to her favorite brand Barb is even working on a new needlepoint with an LV bag jostling on the canvas with gift bags from Hermes, Tiffany's and the like. We have a perfect to hang the finished product--our Louis will always be within sight.

So Mr. Arnault, thank you and your company for keeping the Louis name alive and available. You never know when I might need to go out and buy Barb a special gift. And next time I might not even ask her advice! And maybe I can use a new binder...


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