How a long-standing rivalry between two French billionaires helped raise more than $300 million to rebuild Notre-Dame in under 24 hours

Billionaires Notre Dame donation

Charles Platiau/Reuters; Reuters; Thibault Camus/AP; Yutong Yuan/Business Insider

Bernard Arnault (L) and Francois Pinault (R) are the two richest men in France.


On Monday evening, a massive fire swept through the 800-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral. Located in the heart of the French capital, the iconic structure was undergoing major reconstruction efforts when the fire started.

Currently ranked as the richest and second-richest men, respectively, in France, Bernard Arnault and François Pinault both head major luxury-goods empires. Pinault's net worth is currently $35.1 billion according to Forbes real-time data, while Arnault is worth $92.3 billion. Arnault leads LVMH - the parent company of Louis Vuitton and Sephora - and Pinault serves as honorary chairman for his company, Kering, which owns the flourishing Gucci brand.
The pair's undeclared war came to a head over Gucci in the late 1990s and 2000s, when both competed for control of the iconic Italian fashion house. The 2.5 year-battle resulted in Arnault selling his eight million shares to Pinault for $94 apiece, giving up his stake in the company.

Since then, the two have competed in the art world as well, according to The New York Times.

Read more: Here are all the people and companies who have collectively pledged nearly $730 million so far to help rebuild Notre-Dame after the disastrous fire

Most recently, the rivalry could be seen playing out in the aftermath of the Notre-Dame fire, when Pinault's announcement of a pledged donation to the cathedral's repairs was far exceeded, hours later, by Arnault's.

Pinault's son - François-Henri, Kering's current CEO - announced to Agence France-Presse that the family would donate 100 million, or $113 million, from their holding group at 9:46 p.m. CEST.Nine hours later, LVMH announced that Arnault and his family, too, would be donating. And their pledged donation - at 200 million, or $226 million - roundly doubled Pinault's.

According to Business Insider's Katie Warren, they are amongst a variety of businesspeople and companies who have collectively pledged $730 million to the rebuilding of the Notre-Dame.

Other wealthy donors include the Bettencourt-Meyer family - heirs to the L'Oreal fortune - alongside French oil giant Total and major French bank Crédit Agricole. Business Insider's David Smith also reported Apple's CEO Tim Cook pledged to donate money to the cause.

Business Insider reached out to LVMH and Kering for comment on the timing of their donations but did not hear back by the time of publication.