On a crisp late October afternoon in Paris Bernard Arnault, Europe's richest man, is talking about his upcoming trip to one of the fastest-growing outposts of his LVMH empire: Mongolia, of all places. "I like to see the reaction of the people in the shops," says the 61-year-old mogul in lightly accented but supple English. Dapper and slim, he wears a navy suit and matching tie made by his flagship fashion label, Christian Dior ( CHDRF.PK - news - people ), and handmade black loafers by Berluti, one of the lesser known but most exclusive of the 60-plus brands in his stable. "I also like to see the competition," he adds. "I am quite competitive. I want to stay ahead and increase our advance."
Ahead he is by a long shot, not just in numbers--LVMH stock rose 60% in the last year, vaulting his net worth to $39 billion--but also in global reach. Arnault has long made a crusade of bringing haute couture to the developing world, to places like China, where the first Louis Vuitton store opened in 1992, and India. Now he is staking a claim in central Asia, better known for yurts, nomads and yak milk than Fendi bags and Guerlain perfume. But last year LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, as it is formally known, opened a store in Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar, a metropolis of 1.1 million, 120 miles from the Russian border; weeks ago it set up shop in Inner Mongolia's Hohhot, within the borders of China. The first store is already profitable.
In early November Arnault visited six Asian cities in seven days in his private jet, accompanied by two close advisers: daughter Delphine, 35, number three at Dior, who oversees the stores; and Dior chief and longtime consigliere Sidney Toledano. At the end of the month Arnault will return to Asia with his son Antoine, 33, communications head of Louis Vuitton. The days will be long and focused on details. "Sometimes he adjusts a bag on a store shelf by 5 centimeters," says Antoine. "At 10 p.m. he's still going. He's got an energy...
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