Rival French Billionaires Pledge Over $600 Million to Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral

Phil Serafino
Rival French Billionaires Pledge Over $600 Million to Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral

France’s luxury-goods tycoons are among the country’s wealthiest individuals and companies to pledge at least 600 million euros ($678 million) to help in the reconstruction of Notre-Dame cathedral a day after the Paris landmark was ravaged by fire.

Kicking off a wave of donations in response to a call from President Emmanuel Macron for a fund-raising campaign, Francois-Henri Pinault, the chairman and chief executive officer of Gucci owner Kering SA, and his father, Francois Pinault, said Tuesday they would donate 100 million euros from their Artemis investment company.

Their archrival, the Arnault family, responded minutes later with a pledge of 200 million euros and the architectural and design resources of their LVMH fashion conglomerate. Cosmetics company L’Oreal SA and its principal shareholder, the Bettencourt Meyers family, will give 100 million euros, while the family’s charitable foundation will chip in another 100 million euros, the company said.

“This tragedy is striking all the French people, and beyond that, all those attached to spiritual values,” Francois-Henri Pinault, 56, said in a statement. “Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to give life back to this jewel of our heritage as soon as possible.”

Corporate and individual gifts poured in, along with offers of technical assistance, from France and abroad. Macron, who vowed to rebuild the 850-year-old Gothic monument, called for contributions and said he would draw on the world’s best talents for the task.

It’s unclear how much it will cost to repair the cathedral. Windsor Castle in England was hit by a fire in 1992, and restoration work cost 37 million pounds ($48 million) by the time it was completed five years later, according to the Royal Collection Trust.

Restoration of Notre Dame was already under way before the fire, with a budget of about 150 million euros, Michel Picaud, of the fund-raising group the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris, said in an interview on BFM TV. That may need to be tripled after the fire, he said.

Luxury fortunes dominate the upper reaches of France’s wealth landscape and are already behind some restoration projects in the city. The elder Pinault, 82, is the world’s 23rd richest person, with a fortune estimated at $37.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Read more: Paris Is Becoming One Big Monument to Owners of LVMH and Kering

Bernard Arnault, 70, is the main shareholder of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE and ranks third globally and first in France with a $90.4 billion fortune. L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers is the country’s second-wealthiest and the world’s richest woman with a $53.5 billion fortune.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is considering convening in the coming weeks a conference of international donors to raise the money needed for the restoration, she said Tuesday on Twitter. Germany stands ready to help “in the closest friendship,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter. “We are united in mourning,” he added.

Oil producer Total SA, France’s biggest company by sales, will contribute 100 million euros to the private non-profit Fondation du Patrimoine for the project, CEO Patrick Pouyanne said. Martin Bouygues and Olivier Bouygues, the brothers who run construction and telecom company Bouygues SA, committed 10 million euros in personal funds and the company said it also would donate. Technology consulting firm Capgemini SE pledged 1 million euros. In the U.S., private-equity titan Henry Kravis and his wife, Marie-Josee Kravis, will give $10 million, they said.

Construction company Vinci SA, the Duval family that owns property developer Groupe Duval, and banks BNP Paribas SA, Societe Generale SA and Credit Agricole SA also said they would give.

“Vinci suggests all building companies in France should join forces to rebuild Notre Dame in an industry-wide skills sponsorship drive,” the company said in a statement, noting that the 13th-century wooden beams holding up the roof can never be replaced, while the remaining structure “must be safeguarded.”

Authorities on Tuesday were still assessing the damage from the fire and weren’t saying how much it would cost to restore the cathedral, which lost large swaths of its roof.

“Today we must look at the extent of the damage,” Culture Minister Franck Riester said on LCI television, adding that only then can the cost of restoration be determined.

“Clearly money is important, but there will be many donations and money won’t be the thing that’s missing,’’ Antoine Arnault, Bernard Arnault’s son, said in an interview on BFM TV. “What will be needed is something more intangible — extremely competent people with good ideas.’’

LVMH has “architectural and artistic savoir faire,” as well as expertise in art preservation because of its Louis Vuitton foundation, he said.