The man who built the world's largest fashion and luxury-goods group didn't do so by being soft and frilly. Bernard Arnault, 54, controls Christian Dior and LVMH, which markets some 50 well-known brands, including Marc Jacobs fashions, Louis Vuitton bags and a cluster of famous champagnes. He put his empire together over 20 years and often used hard-nosed tactics to get what he wanted. He may not have created LVMH's brands, but more than anyone, Arnault understood their worldwide potential and how to exploit it.
Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Arnault got his big break in 1984, when he took over a textile conglomerate that included Dior. In 1989 he won a fierce battle for control of family-run Louis Vuitton. With a mixture of clever marketing, innovative design and tight control over how and where the products are sold, Arnault turned Vuitton and Dior into highly profitable global businesses. In the economic downturn, Arnault reined in his acquisitive urges. Now that growth is picking up, gossips in the fashion world wonder when he'll start buying again. --By Peter Gumbel