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The discreet charm of the Wertheimers
Alain and Gerard Wertheimer have a passion for the finer things in life, including the fashion house Chanel and thoroughbred racehorses. As low-profile by the catwalk as they are by the racetrack, the brothers are more than happy to let their commercial success do the talking.
With each having an estimated fortune of $31.6 according to Forbes, Alain and Gerard Wertheimer are sitting on the fourth richest French fortune, behind Bernard Arnault, Françoise Bettencourt and François-Henri Pinault, four families that have become fabulously rich due to their interests in the luxury goods sector.
Yet while François-Henri Pinault is regulary seen on the red carper with his actress-wife Salma Hayek, the dapper Wertheimer boys have “done their level-best to disappear completely from the public eye,” according to Didier Grumbach, the former president of the French Haute Couture Federation in the pages of Challenges magazine.
On the rare occasions the Wertheimers do go to fashion shows, they are content to sit three or four rows back. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies for glitzy new Chanel boutiques? They’ve been known to attend incognito. To have the best chance of getting to meet the septuagenarian duo, one might follow the main road south out of Deauville for a handful of miles until you reach the plush stables of Haras de Saint-Léonard, where they can often be seen on horseback.
Purchased by the Wertheimers in 1992, the property once belonged to Egyptian prince Said Toussoun. At the time the family were already highly involved in the world of horseracing, having acquired neighboring farms one by one to build their pastoral paradise.
The estate is home to Poulinières, their foals, and also the stately manors of Gerard et Alain, who live respectively in Geneva and New York. Other regulars at Haras de Saint-Leonard include top trainers and jockeys that regularly appear on the podium of some of the biggest horseraces, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Success on all fronts
In 2014, Challenges revealed that the brothers spent around €10 million a year on breeding and raising thoroughbred horses, both in France and in Kentucky. No mere indulgence as in 2013, the Wertheimers collected half a dozen million euros in prizemoney.
Of course, the brothers are not in the horse-breeding game to make money, for that there’s Chanel, the venerable French luxury fashion house founded by Coco Chanel, which their grandfather, Pierre Wertheimer, bought into in 1924, and which the brothers 100% control.
Alain and Gerard are far from idle owners, the former especially. "It’s Alain, moreso than his brother, who holds the reins of Chanel, explained a close colleague to Challenges. He holds a 51% share in the company to Gerard’s 49%."
At 26 Alain took control of the company upon the death of his father, Jacques. At the time Chanel was not doing all that well. One of Alain’s masterstrokes was to hire Karl Lagerfeld, to whom he gave carte blanche to do as he wanted. An astute move, as it turned out. In fact this sort of creative autonomy is something the majority of Chanel’s fashion designers ─ not to mention racehorse professionals in the Wertheimer’s employ ─ enjoy. Not bad bosses to have.
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