(c) 2013, Slate.
(c) 2013, Slate.
The new titans of business are now also the best dressed. Take a glance at the Bloomberg Billionaires list: As of this writing, the third wealthiest person in the world is Amancio Ortega (net worth $64.2 billion), the founder of Spanish clothing chain Zara. No. 15 is luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault ($33 billion), chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA; just a few places behind is Stefan Persson ($29.3 billion), chairman of Swedish retail giant H&M. In the past year, a noteworthy crop of high-end designers made their first appearances on the Forbes richest-billionaires list, including Tory Burch, Dolce & Gabbana's Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, and Diesel founder Renzo Rosso. Brunello Cucinelli, with his eponymous label of suits and $2,000 cashmere sweaters, has reportedly sailed past the 10-figure mark while the ubiquitous Michael Kors is on the brink, if he hasn't crossed it already.
High-end (or highish-end) fashion is the provenance of a new class of billionaire. "It's the bifurcation of the world," says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a research and consulting firm. "People talk about the 99 percent and the 1, but it's really more like the 80 percent and the 20. That top number of consumers is growing exponentially, and as a result, premium and luxury brands are surging." With an expanded consumer base in China and other Asian markets as well as in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and the Americas, the luxury market has boomed; according to the consulting firm Bain & Co., these consumers worldwide have spent roughly $292 billion in 2013 alone.
"Up until fairly recently, fashion was this small, impenetrable world that didn't really communicate with regular people," says Barneys New York creative ambassador and Slate columnist Simon Doonan. Thanks in part to the democratizing influence of the Internet and shows like "Sex and the City" and "Project Runway," "fashion has become a global spectator sport," Doonan says. "Is it any wonder then that these designers are becoming billionaires?"