Nation & World

Sotheby's sold to telecom billionaire

Deal extends France's discreet grip on finer things

Reuters

Patrick Drahi says he will buy Sotheby’s for $2.7 billion.
Reuters Patrick Drahi says he will buy Sotheby’s for $2.7 billion.

Bloomberg News

Even when wealthy shoppers snub famously French labels such as Louis Vuitton or Saint Laurent, there’s a bigger chance than ever that the cash from their high-dollar habits will end up in the coffers of French companies.

Telecom titan Patrick Drahi said he will buy Sotheby’s for $2.7 billion, meaning the world’s two leading auction houses will be controlled by French billionaires.

Francois Pinault, who founded the luxury conglomerate Kering, has owned Christie’s since 1998.

While the Sotheby’s acquisition is Drahi’s first move into the luxury arena, Pinault and rival Bernard Arnault have been collecting fashion labels for several decades, expanding France’s discreet hold over the finer things in life.

In addition to their French holdings, they’ve gone shopping abroad, with Kering adding Italy’s Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Pomellato, while LVMH owns Bulgari, Fendi and Loro Piana.

LVMH’s dominance of the high-end market doesn’t stop at fashion. In addition to wine estates from Argentina to New Zealand, the company owns the cosmetics chain Sephora — with hundreds of stores in the Americas as well as departments within J.C. Penney stores — and has teamed up with singer Rihanna on her Fenty Beauty brand.

The group — luxury’s biggest player — also recently branched out into international travel by buying Belmond, which operates hotels including Venice’s Cipriani, New York’s 21 Club restaurant and Orient Express trains from London to Venice.

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Sotheby’s buyers of $110 million paintings or Jackson Hole ranches may not care much about the nationality of the auction house’s owner.

And Drahi, as with Arnault or Pinault before him, might do little to enlighten them. As the French maxim goes, “pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés” — to live happily, live hidden.

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