When you think of wealth and fashion, certain names come to mind: Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, maybe Benetton.
How about Amancio Ortega? Haven't heard of him? For good reason. Despite sitting pretty atop an industry where buzz is everything, Ortega doesn't talk to the press. And though he's made billions of dollars from his wildly successful fashion company, he rarely wears a tie and often dons jeans.
The son of a railway worker began making dressing gowns and lingerie in his living room 45 years ago with the help of his wife. Today that business is Inditex, a fashion powerhouse with 3,825 stores in 68 countries, including popular chains like Zara. Ortega's stake made him the 22nd wealthiest person in the world in our annual listing of the World's Billionaires, published in March. We estimated the Spaniard's total net worth at $20.2 billion.
And that's the irony of the fashion industry. While you know the brands, the designers and the supermodels, chances are, you've never heard of the people actually running the show. Despite bankrolling the tastes of millions--and making billions doing so--their names remain largely unknown.
Another fashion billionaire: Stefan Persson. Who? Here's a hint: 26 years ago, the Swede took over Hennes & Mauritz, the retailer founded by his father. Still don't know him? Today his chain is better known as H&M. It keeps its lines fresh by bringing in celebrity designers like Karl Lagerfeld, and keeps its prices low. The result is big sales--and billions for Persson. Last year, the company's annual revenues tallied about $15 billion, and his net worth hit $17.7 billion, by our estimates.
How about brothers Alan and Gerard Wertheimer? They control Chanel, founded by their grandfather and Coco Chanel. The brand remains one of the most coveted in the world under the vision of Artistic Director Karl Lagerfeld. It's next big opportunity is China. A recent survey of the Chinese affluent revealed that Chanel is their favorite luxury brand.
Tadashi Yanai, worth $3.6 billion, created Uniqlo, a popular discount clothing brand sometimes called the Japanese version of the Gap. Haven't heard of him? You will. Yanai is now looking overseas. The chain opened a sprawling flagship store in New York's trendy SoHo in late 2006. It will open a similar store in Paris in 2009. Yanai is looking to go upscale as well as global. Last year he unsuccessfully bid for the high-fashion department store chain Barneys.
Then there's Bernard Arnault. Famous in France (he's the wealthiest man in the country), Arnault's better known by the brands his company, LVMH MoÃ«t Hennessy Louis Vuitton, owns. They include Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Thomas Pink and Donna Karan.
Arnault's $25.5 billion net worth in March made him 13th on our list of the world's billionaires, No. 1 when it comes to fashion. But Arnault didn't start his career in the industry. Trained as an engineer, he moved into luxury goods in 1985 when he used money from his family's construction company to buy Christian Dior. Fast learner.