As head of Louis Vuitton, Yves Carcelle, who has died at the age of 66, built the French fashion house into one of the world's leading luxury brands. Though it is only one of around 60 such brands owned by LVMH, Louis Vuitton is the conglomerate's driving force, and Carcelle expanded its appeal into areas such as eyewear and jewellery while travelling the world looking for new areas to colonise. One of his key decisions came in 1997 when he hired as creative director the then up-and-coming designer Marc Jacobs, whose introduction of the company's first ready-to-wear line helped seal its place at or near the top of fashion's premier league.
Born in 1948 in Paris, Carcelle graduated in mathematics from the city's École Polytechnique then gained a masters in business administration from the business school, Insead. His first job was as a salesman for Spontex a maker of household cleaning products, which he said was excellent training for a career in fashion: "You have to be a good salesmen, if nothing else," he said. "And you have to know how to deal with people,"
The renowned fashion journalist Suzy Menkes wrote: "My favourite Yves Carcelle story – one he liked to tell with a glass of champagne in hand, perhaps at a private party at home in front of a bold Gilbert & George painting, with his then wife Rebecca at his side and with his boys listening in – was about his early days as a fledgling travelling salesman. Taking to the road with a girlfriend, the young Yves would send her into a hardware store asking with a flirtatious enthusiasm for a new product he was hoping to sell. Ten minutes later, he would be knocking on the same store door, offering to supply the goods. The success was instant."
Following his stint at Spontex, in 1974 he joined Blenda Pharm laboratories, then five years later was appointed director of the Absorba clothing brand at Poron. In 1985 he became president of the textiles firm Descamps, and his success in turning the company around led to his recruitment by Bernard Arnault as LVMH's director of strategy in 1989. The following year he became chairman and CEO, then in 1998 head of the LVMH fashion division, which as well as Louis Vuitton includes such brands as Givenchy, Donna Karan, Christian Dior, Celine, Fendi, the jewellers Bulgari and cognac maker Hennessy.
Colleagues said Carcelle knew little about luxury when he joined Louis Vuitton. But he quickly won Arnault's trust and became one of his most respected lieutenants. "There was a lot of mutual respect between the two men even though they had very different personalities," an LVMH executive. "Carcelle was very different from Arnault. Arnault is cold and not really somebody who easily gets excited about something, while Carcelle was very spontaneous and open."
Carcelle quadrupled Louis Vuitton's network of stores to just under 470, many of them in strategically important emerging markets such as China. He showed great skill in spreading the Louis Vuitton gospel: a rival told Suzy Menkes how when he and Carcelle would arrive in an often remote Chinese town, Carcelle would hand out beautifully wrapped small leather goods as gifts to the city's mayor and each member of his family.
In 2001 he went back to his old job following the departure of Marcello Bottoli after only 18 months. "It's not always easy to sum up what our brand means to people, but let me try," he said in 2004. "It's about reliability, quality, style, innovation and authenticity."
Carcelle became an expert in easing Louis Vuitton into new markets. When he wasn't globe-trotting, Carcelle was usually in his Paris office by 6am. Though he was softly-spoken, he could raise his voice when necessary – as he did when he let fly at a French government official who went to a Louis Vuitton store opening in Bangkok carrying a fake Vuitton bag.
Carcelle, who died of renal cancer, stepped down at the end of 2012 as Louis Vuitton's sales growth was starting to slow down after years of double-digit increases. There were calls for a change in management, particularly as Carcelle was in his early 60s. He stayed on as part of the LVMH executive committee and as vice president of the Fondation Louis Vuitton museum, designed by Frank Gehry on the Bois de Boulogne and due to open next month.
A keen sailor, he was an enthusiastic follower of the Louis Vuitton Cup, which until last year served as the eliminator series for the Americas Cup. Just before the onset of the global financial crisis he was asked if he was worried that his company could suffer. "Not really," he replied. "The great thing about our business is that our customers are very rich – and then they are a bit less rich, but still rich, right?"
Yves Carcelle, businessman: born Paris 18 May 1948; Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur 2014; twice married (five children); died 31 August 2014.Reuse content