The rumors had been doing the rounds for several months, but the announcement in early September was still an electroshock for industry insiders. The surprise was mainly caused by the differing profiles of the two partners. Continental chic in bed with mainstream cinema! What could François-Henri Pinault, at the helm of a dozen fashion, leather goods, and jewelry brands, an auction house, a publishing house, a cruise company, a major Paris museum, a soccer team, two magazines, and several wine estates in France and California, possibly have in common with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Hollywood’s biggest agent? Well, on paper, very little…
The Pinault family heads up the Kering group and an investment fund, Artémis, which led the acquisition of CAA. For them, opulence is a calling. At the age of 16, the group’s founder, François Pinault, left high school, joined the family sawmill, and prospered in the timber trade, before turning to art and luxury goods. In less than 50 years, he managed to acquire and unite a portfolio of illustrious houses including Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta, Boucheron, Gucci, and Balenciaga. His son, François-Henri, seems to be following in his footsteps, taking over from his father and pursuing the group’s meteoric rise on the international stage.
CAA was founded in Los Angeles in 1975 and has offices across the world. With 2,000 employees and sales of 1.7 billion dollars (compared to 47,000 employees and 20.3 billion euros for Kering), the agency has carved out a niche representing celebrities. Its address book includes actors Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, George Clooney, Jessica Biel, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, and Zac Efron, directors Steven Spielberg and Ava DuVernay, and singers Justin Bieber, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Selena Gomez. Not to mention some of the biggest names in basketball, baseball, football, and soccer. The agency’s strength largely lies in its gift for connecting people. From A to Z, it is able to offer a long list of talents capable of making any project a success.
The Draw of Hollywood
What is the appeal of combining these two companies? Unlike his father, a collector fascinated by contemporary art who acquired Christie’s and created the Bourse de Commerce museum in Paris, François-Henri Pinault swears by cinema. This is an industry he intends to support without seeking to control it (he launched the Women in Motion program to encourage women in cinema, in partnership with the Cannes Film Festival, and has been living with actress and producer Salma Hayek since 2009). As a “strategic investor” via Artémis, he will abstain from any interference within CAA and will maintain the agency’s American chairmen Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, and Richard Lovett.
For the time being, the key to understanding the acquisition of CAA undoubtedly lies in the extraordinary potential of celebrities. To keep pace with the explosive growth of the film production, music, and sports markets, the agency was looking for a major shareholder to replace the American fund TPG Capital. Enter François-Henri Pinault, a firm believer in the synergies between fashion, luxury, and entertainment. Buying TPG’s stake, valued at seven billion dollars, should enable him to turn Hollywood stars into ambassadors for his brands.
The gamble is already paying off. His wife, Salma Hayek, who is represented by CAA, is already flying the colors of Gucci and Balenciaga on the red carpet. As Catherine Deneuve once did for Yves Saint Laurent, dozens of stars are now the faces of major luxury brands, including actors Austin Butler and Rami Malek for YSL, Robert Pattinson for Dior, Timothée Chalamet for Chanel, Kendall Jenner for L’Oréal Paris, Jenna Ortega for Dior, and Zendaya for Lancôme and Louis Vuitton. And let’s not forget musician and producer Pharrell Williams, who was recently appointed Louis Vuitton Men’s creative director.
Luxury Moves into the Art World
Like Gwyneth Paltrow, founder of the lifestyle brand Goop, and Brad Pitt, who owns a château in Provence, a vineyard, a recording studio, a cosmetics line, and a brand of gin made in France, more and more celebrities are marketing their image and launching their own brands of skincare products, clothing, or alcohol. With this in mind, the Pinault family’s takeover of CAA seems to be a wise choice. And compared with the assets in the family pot, estimated at nearly 40 billion euros (among others, Artémis owns 29% of Puma, 42% of Kering, and 100% of Christie’s and Courrèges), the acquisition of a talent agency is not out of the ordinary. What’s more, Hollywood has always fascinated the French. Jérôme Seydoux, then owner of Pathé cinemas, dreamed of buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1990s. More recently, Mediawan, the Paris-based audiovisual company that developed the show Call My Agent!, took over Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt’s production company behind The Departed, Twelve Years a Slave, and Moonlight.
And then there’s the symbolism of the whole operation. At a time when the smallest logo can hold the general public in a state of rapture, absorbing brands that have been roughed up in the Wild West of social media can be a good way to counter influencers and their followers who can make – or sometimes break – the success of a product. But does this mean we need to turn Hollywood’s elite into sandwich boards? The union of François-Henri Pinault and CAA has blurred the lines between luxury and entertainment, increasing the influence of divas and supermodels-turned-actors-turned-ambassadors. Cinema – like fashion and jewelry – has always championed its artistic roots. But now that it is being integrated into marketing strategies that play on our fascination for stardom, art has become a commercial weapon putting creative talent at the service of an industry. Don’t be surprised if you see a movie designed and produced by the Pinault family – think Barbie about Boucheron or Gucci.