John Lichfield: French foes bury the handbag

Paris Notebook: This was like King Kong agreeing to have a quiet meal with Godzilla
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The Independent Online

One of the most bitter, and expensive, feuds in French history has ended with a lunch.

The billionaires Bernard Arnault, 59, and François Pinault, 72, who have been engaged in a titanic huff for the last decade, are reported to have eaten together in Paris last week.

In terms of French, and global, business politics, this was like King Kong agreeing to have a quiet meal with Godzilla.

Between them the two self-made billionaires control a large swathe of the world's luxury goods industry. They have been engaged in a vicious, personal and business feud for almost 10 years. Their initial weapon of choice was handbags.

M. Arnault has long controlled Louis Vuitton, the French leather goods manufacturer. His uneasy relationship with M. Pinault turned to fury when his rival snatched the prestigious Italian leather-goods maker, Gucci, from under his nose in March 1999.

The deal led to a lengthy series of legal battles. M. Pinault started to assemble a luxury goods conglomerate to rival M. Arnault's LVMH. Their voracious, worldwide pursuit of luxury brands is said to have pushed up the asking price of their conquests by hundreds of millions of euros.

The two men agreed to have lunch on Tuesday at the home of the Belgian billionaire, Albert Frére. Why should three billionaires meet for lunch? To compare wounds, maybe. All three have suffered, to varying degrees, in the collapse of global stockmarkets.

It is rumoured, however, that the two men were urged to end their unseemly spat by that great peacemaker of our times, President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Maybe the Napoleonic victories carved on the Arc de Triomphe should be rubbed out and replaced by the names of Sarko's peace-agreements. Georgia. Gaza. Handbag War.

Sumo attacks Jacques

Almost two years after leaving office, a member of the Chirac family has started to show the strain. The former First Chien, Sumo, has started leaping high into the air for no obvious reason. The other day he bit his master, Jacques Chirac, rather viciously. Luckily, despite his name, Sumo is a tiny dog, a Bichon Maltais, a breed which resembles a toy poodle. He been placed on anti-depressants.

A quiz for trainspotters

one of London's great railway stations, Waterloo, is named after a village in Belgium, but I discovered the other day that another London terminus was named after a French village. Is it Saint-Pancrace, Dordogne (population 155), Saint-Pancrace, Savoie (pop. 88) or Saint-Pancrasse, Isère (pop. 177)?

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