>> So just how does the richest man in France, and one of the most powerful in fashion, do it?  A profile in the March 2009 issue of WSJ. gives us a clue about the dealings of Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, who Anna Wintour says "has a very strong understanding of what [his] designers do. If he’s concerned about something, he’ll speak up, but he’ll never tell them, ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that.”

But he will give them a strong hint.  When John Galliano was presenting the Pre-Fall 2009 collection to buyers in Paris, Arnault came to oversee.  Twenty-three models are escorted in for Arnault's perusal, and Galliano "reads nervously in English from a prepared speech to explain the source of his inspiration: Dior seen through the erotic lens of photographer Helmut Newton":

Arnault, seated on a white sofa, focuses on two ingredients: Is the piece “Dior” enough and is it priced right? “Ah, this is true Dior,” he states definitively of a black waist-cinched suit with pleated pockets. “It’s Dior safari,” he says of a beige coat with fox-fur collar. A skirt suit in Prince of Wales check appears: “The Dior woman will like this and will want to come back season after season,” he says.

"Ça, c’est beau — how much is it?” Arnault asks as a tall blond model stands before him in a $1,500 red double-face wool dress. “Will that sell?” he asks of an embroidered $15,000 cream-colored gown. (The answer was yes, in Monaco, Hong Kong and Moscow.) “Why not use those black masks for the ad campaign?” “If you tell me so, sir,” Galliano answers.

Now about those pesky plastic pendants »

But the "obsessing," as Arnault's wife, Helene Mercier, puts it, really begins when he spots a $750 red-rimmed cotton canvas bag:

“I just don’t like it. I don’t like it at all." He tugs disapprovingly on a round plastic pendant on the bag’s handle. “Can this be taken off?” he asks the cluster of Dior executives standing behind him. He takes the bag off its perch and continues: “The black and gray versions of the bag are already bordering on the commercial, but the red goes too far . . . it’s just not Dior.”

“What do you think?” Arnault asks Delphine Arnault-Gancia, 33, his daughter from his first marriage, who is Dior’s deputy managing director. She slings the bag over her shoulder and pushes her long blond hair out of the way. “It grows on you,” she answers uneasily. She gestures toward her light gray tweed suit and black patent heels. “Don’t imagine it with what I’m wearing, think of it with jeans.”

Arnault turns to Galliano. “John, help me out here. Do you like it?” he asks. “It’s for a younger crowd,” the designer ventures. “Think of it for the streets of St. Tropez.” Arnault shakes his head. “I don’t like it,” he says. “I don’t want to see it in stores.”

Arnault may invoke fear in those around him, but he likes to paint himself as "understanding": “Designers are closer to artists than to engineers.  They’re not like normal managers, and you have to balance their creativity and rationality. John, Karl, Marc, they’re genius. You can’t put them into a rational environment. They’re sometimes late, and you have to accept that if you work with them, you have to be understanding with them.”
*image: source