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France's luxe labels rush to Notre-Dame aid

French luxury industry bigwigs Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault have pledged 300m euros

LVMH, led by Bernard Arnault, is the largest luxury group in the world. Its fashion holdings include Celine, Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.

New York

IN THE aftermath of the fire at the mediaeval Catholic cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris), one of the great symbols of France, the luxury industry - a true blue French emblem comprising international designer brand names such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent - has pledged hundreds of millions of euros to the cathedral's restoration.

The donations were followed on Tuesday by other pledges that soon surpassed 600 million euros (S$917.6 million) and included beauty, energy and finance companies.

On Monday, as Notre-Dame burned and flames lit the sky, the Pinault family - owners of Kering, the second-largest luxury group in France - was the first to publicly offer a significant contribution, pledging to donate 100 million euros to the rebuilding effort.

"The Notre-Dame tragedy strikes all French people, as well as all those with spiritual values," said Francois-Henri Pinault, chairman of Artemis, the family holding company that controls Kering.

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"Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to bring this jewel of our heritage back to life as soon as possible," he added.

"Today, my father and I have committed to donate 100 million euros from the Artemis fund to take part in the effort needed to fully rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris." Shortly afterwards, the Arnault family and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, led by Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France, announced that they would give 200 million euros.

"The LVMH Group puts at the disposal of the state and the relevant authorities all of its teams - including creative, architectural and financial specialists - to help with the long work of reconstruction and fundraising, which is already in progress," they said.

LVMH is the largest luxury group in the world. Its fashion holdings include Celine, Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.

The group also owns drinks brands including Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot, as well as the landmark Parisian stores Le Bon Marche and La Samaritaine. The group reported revenue of 46.8 billion euros in 2018.

Mr Arnault was an early supporter of Emanuel Macron's presidential bid, and Brigitte Macron, the French first lady, wears Louis Vuitton for most of her high-profile public events.

Mr Arnault also masterminded the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the contemporary art museum in the Bois de Boulogne designed by Frank Gehry that has helped reshape the landscape of Paris and that will ultimately become a gift to the city.

For its part, Kering owns luxury brands such as Balenciaga, Boucheron and Yves Saint Laurent. The Pinault family - also among the richest in France - owns the wine estate Chateau Latour.

The group's 2018 revenues were 13.67 billion euros. Francois Pinault, the patriarch of the family that controls Kering, is building a contemporary art museum in the former Bourse de Commerce in the centre of Paris that will be designed by architect Tadao Ando.

The motives are both altruistic, supplying funds that local governments do not have in the interests of saving a joint inheritance; and self-interested, as the companies clearly understand that the more closely they associate with a masterpiece of history, the more they bask in its glow.

In addition, when it comes to Notre-Dame, donors will benefit from a hefty tax write-off.

Individuals in France can get a 66 per cent discount on charitable gifts, while companies can deduct 60 per cent of their corporate sponsorship expenses - which would most likely include assistance to the cathedral - from their corporation tax, although the amount is capped at 0.5 per cent of turnover.

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Paris, however, such distinctions may not matter. The gifts from the likes of the Arnaults and the Pinaults are a reflection of how personally, and how profoundly, the fire has reached into the identity of French citizens and their businesses.

Indeed, just after the announcement from LVMH, Patrick Pouyanne, the chief executive of the French energy company Total, said on Twitter that his firm would contribute an additional 100 million euros to the cause, and L'Oreal and the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, which is backed by the family that founded the cosmetics giant, pledged a total of 200 million euros.

Offers of aid in the reconstruction effort also came from the bank Societe Generale (10 million euros) and the advertising firm JCDecaux (20 million euros), while the tire maker Michelin also promised a large sum and the construction giant Vinci offered to provide workers and architects.

Their legacy will now be part of Notre-Dame's future. NYTIMES

READ MORE: Notre Dame's bells will toll again for all

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