Meet the Wertheimers, the secretive French brothers worth $30.8 billion who control Chanel, own vineyards in France and Napa Valley, and breed racehorses

Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty ImagesThe brothers have a combined net worth of $US30.8 billion.

Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, co-owners of luxury brand Chanel, are amongst the 10 richest people living in France. Their wealth, while largely inherited, has been grown through business deals and acquisitions spanning retail, wine, and horse racing.

The brothers are largely tight-lipped, hardly ever speaking to the press or giving interviews about their wealth, companies, family, relationships, or hobbies. They live lavish lifestyles in private, surrounding themselves with those similarly closemouthed, and are known as fashion’s quietest billionaires.

Read more: The life and rise of billionaire Oracle founder and international playboy Larry Ellison, who dropped out of college twice and has a $US68 billion fortune

With a combined net worth over $US30 billion, the Wertheimer brothers are among the richest people in the world.

Here’s a look at their lifestyle.


Alain, 70, and brother Gerard Wertheimer, 67, both have a net worth of $US15.4 billion for a combined net worth of $US30.8 billion.

Julien Hekimian/Getty ImagesAlain Wertheimer and his brother Gerard attend the Prix de Diane Longines at Hippodrome de Chantilly on June 12, 2011 in Chantilly, France.

Their wealth began with their grandfather’s acquisition of Chanel, the French fashion house, which they both co-own today. They also own various vineyards across the world and racehorses.

Source: Bloomberg


Their grandfather, Frechman Pierre Wertheimer, and his brother Paul, struck a deal with Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in 1924, founding Société des Parfums Chanel — a deal to sell and produce Chanel beauty products.

Ron Case/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesPierre Wertheimer with the trophy after his horse Lavandin, ridden by Rae Johnstone, won the Epsom Derby, June 6, 1956.

Source: The New York Times


Chanel, at the time, saw it as an opportunity to get her signature fragrance, Chanel No. 5, into the hands of more customers.

Source: The New York Times


Before 1924, the fragrance was only available to exclusive clientele at Chanel’s Paris boutiques.

Source: The New York Times


In 1941, during World War II, Chanel tried to legally wrest control from Pierre Wertheimer, attempting to use the law banning Jews from owning businesses. However, she failed. During the time, the Wertheimers owned over 50 per cent of the fashion house.

Pierre Wertheimer took full control of Chanel in 1954, and Coco Chanel died 17 years later.

Source: The Guardian


Brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer assumed the role as co-owners of the House of Chanel in 1996 after their father, Jacques Wertheimer, son of Pierre, died.

Charles Platiau/Getty Images

Alain serves as the chairman of Chanel.

Gerard heads the company’s watch division from his home in Geneva. They are the third generation to run the nearly 110-year-old company.

Source: Forbes, The New York Times


In 1973, at 25 years old, Alain convinced the board of trustees to let him take over the company.

PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty ImagesAlain Wertheimer, French businessman and owner of fashion house Chanel, attends the Chanel 2014 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection fashion show, on October 1, 2013 at the Grand Palais in Paris.

Source: The New York Times


The two are known as “fashion’s quietest billionaires,” according to The New York Times.

Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty ImagesGerard, left, with brother Alain at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the Hippodrome de Longchamp in 2006.

”We’re a very discreet family, we never talk,” Gérard Wertheimer told The New York Times Magazine in 2002.”It’s about Coco Chanel. It’s about Karl [Lagerfeld]. It’s about everyone who works and creates at Chanel. It’s not about the Wertheimers.”

Source: The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times


They hardly ever take interviews or speak publicly about France’s most iconic fashion house, which they both helm.

Source: The New York Times Magazine


In 1983, the Wertheimer brothers appointed Karl Lagerfeld as the artistic director of Chanel’s fashion division.

Source: The New York Times Magazine


The New York Times calls Lagerfeld the most “prolific designer” of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Source:

The New York Times


“When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty. Not even a beautiful one. She snored,” Lagerfeld said in a 2007 documentary called “Lagerfeld Confidential.”

John van Hasselt/Corbis/Getty Images

“So I was to revive a dead woman,” he said.

Source: Business Insider


Lagerfeld went on to revolutionise Chanel for over three decades, saving it from a potential financial collapse.

Source: Business Insider

Read more: I visited the Chanel store in SoHo the day after Karl Lagerfeld died, and it was clear why the brand has been an icon for nearly 100 years


Lagerfeld was a key element in Chanel’s success until his passing in February 2019.

Source: Business Insider


Lagerfeld’s passing sent waves of sadness through the fashion industry.

Source: Business Insider


A tribute was held in Paris in June 2019 to remember the fashion icon. Celebrities including Tilda Swinton, Cara Delevingne, Helen Mirren, and Pharrell Williams attended.

Source: Vogue


If the Wertheimer brothers attend a Chanel fashion show, they drive themselves, and then sit in the third or fourth row.

Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesChanel Haute Couture Spring Summer 2019 fashion show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 22, 2019 in Paris.

Source: The New York Times Magazine


However, the two never attend the opening of Chanel stores, nor do they publicly comment on the business.

Source: The New York Times Magazine


Before 2018, Chanel never announced sales numbers, leaving the industry to merely guess its worth.

Source: The New York Times


Numbers released in 2018, for the first time in 108 years, showed total sales for the 2017 calendar year were $US9.62 billion.

Source: The New York Times


As both Alain and Gerard near their 70s, it still remains unknown who will succeed them in the Chanel business.

The brothers never speak about Chanel publicly. In a New York Times article from 2002, Alain told a reporter why he spoke with Wine Spectator and declined to comment for the paper:

“I spoke to the Wine Spectator because that’s PR, that’s how you sell wine. I will gladly speak to you, about the wine and the horses, because we sell the brand value. Horses are the brand value of ‘Wertheimer Frères.’ But I don’t give interviews on Chanel because it is not useful for the Chanel business.”

Source: The New York Times


Grandfather Pierre Wertheimer had a love for racehorses and for breeding thoroughbreds.

Bettmann / Contributor/Getty ImagesOwner Pierre Wertheimer leads colt Lavandin, with jockey Rae Johnstone, after victory in this year’s 177th running of the English Derby at Epsom Downs in 1956.

It was at the races where Coco Chanel and Pierre Wertheimer met, according to The New York Times.

Source: The New York Times


The family’s first racing winner was in 1911 — Pierre’s first champion, Epinard, in the early 1920s.

PA Images via Getty ImagesLavandin, ridden by Rae Johnstone, passes the post to win the 1956 Derby.

Source: The New York Times


But Pierre’s greatest victory was in 1956, when Lavandin won the Epsom Derby.

Source: The New York Times


Just like their grandfather, Alain and Gerard have both taken an interest in horse racing.

Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty ImagesGerard Wertheimer, Alec Head, and Alain Wertheimer watch the horses race in Deauville, France in 1992.

Source: Business Insider


And like Chanel, the two brothers inherited Wertheimer et Frere, the family’s horse racing and breeding business.

Michel Dufour/WireImage/Getty ImagesAlain Wertheimer and Gerard Wertheimer, owners of the House of Chanel, with jockey Olivier Peslier attend the Prix de Diane Hermes on June 13, 2004.

Source: Business Insider


Gerard is the one who oversees the family’s horse stock.

Etienne DE MALGLAIVE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty ImagesAlain Wertheimer and his brother Gerard Wertheimer with their horse Egyptand at Grand Prix of Diane in Chantilly, France on June 11, 2000.

Source: The New York Times


In 1995, the latest estimation was that the family owned close to 200 horses across four of its ranches in Chantilly, California, Kentucky, and Normandy.

Foc Kan/WireImage/Getty ImagesGerard Wertheimer attends the ‘Cravaches D’Or’ Awards 2013 At Theatre des Champs Elysees In Paris.

Source: The New York Times


In 2015, Solow, a Wertheimer horse, won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Race.

Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Many of their horses have also won races at the French Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Source: Thoroughbred Daily


Queen Elizabeth II presented the trophy to both Alain and Gerard Wertheimer after the race that bears her name in 2015.

Getty Images/Getty Images

Source: Thoroughbred Daily


In 1994, the brothers bought Bordeaux winery Chateau Rauzan-Segla.

Tim Graham/Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg


In 2015, Chanel bought the St. Supery winery in California’s Napa Valley.

Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesA worker drives a tractor through the vineyard at St. Supery Winery September 20, 2006 in Rutherford, California.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


St. Supery winery is about an hour and a half from Sacramento, California by car.

Source:

Google Maps


The purchase of the the St. Supery winery cemented the brothers’ vintner status in the wine industry.

ShutterstockA wine vineyard in Napa, California

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Also in 2015, the brothers finished the renovation of Chateau Canon.

Tim Graham/Getty ImagesVineyards at Chateau Canon 1er Grand Cru Classe, St Emilion in the Bordeaux wine region of France, seen here in 2010.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Chateau Canon is located in France and is about an hour away from Barcelona by plane.

Source: Google Maps


Chateau Canon has six bedrooms, but is not a hotel: Guests can only stay if they’re invited.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


The Wall Street Journal reported that the Wertheimer family and their guests can often be found in the château in the summer, according to chateau employees.

Tim Graham/Getty Images

According to The Wall Street Journal, a “large but humble bamboo table greets guests in the entry hall” of the chateau, which also features modern furniture with shades of purple and pink, and down in the wine cellar, there are bottles dating back to the early 1800s.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


Alain Wertheimer reportedly owns a “grand apartment on Fifth Avenue,” according to The New York Times.

Raymond Boyd/Getty ImagesNew York City’s Upper East Side.

Chanel’s executive offices are only a short distance from Alain’s home, on 57th Street.

Source: The New York Times


He shares his Fifth Avenue apartment with his wife Brigitte and three children.

Source: The New York Times


Alain and his brother spend some of their time in New York despite the fact that the family owned, as of 2002, more than eight homes across the world.

Marissa Perino/Business Insider

Source: The New York Times


Gerard is said to own a secluded, French-style mansion in the Vandœuvres region of Geneva, Switzerland, which is filled with antiques.

Google Maps

Source: The New York Times


However, he has been described as not taking part in any social activities or being seen in restaurants in the area.

Source: The New York Times


It has also been reported that the Wertheimer family enjoys shooting game at their chateau in Loire Valley, France.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty ImagesThis is not the chateau the Wertheimer brothers own in Loire Valley.

Source: The New York Times


The family also spends a lot of their time at their chalet in the Swiss Alps, skiing.

Source: The New York Times


The Wertheimers also collect a lot of important art, which decorates many of their homes. Some of their highly priced pieces are by Picasso, Matisse, Rousseau — to name a few.

Ben Pruchnie / Staff / Getty Images‘Tete De Femme’ by Pablo Picasso up for auction at Sotheby’s in London, England.

Source: The New York Times


As for Chanel, it now has storefronts all over the world with its headquarters in Paris, France.

Getty ImagesChanel headquarters in Paris, France.

Source: Forbes


As of May 2019, Chanel has totaled $US6.5 billion in sales.

Source: Forbes


The company currently employs 20,000 people.

Steve Kovach/Business Insider

Source: Forbes

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.