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    Pinault Acquires Piasa
by Adrian Darmon
 
     
 
François Pinault
 
Bernard Arnault
 
The battle between the two titans of French luxury goods, François Pinault and Bernard Arnault, is heating up. Pinault, who owns the French department store Au Printemps, the vineyard Chateau Latour and Christie's, has now bought Piasa, France's third-largest auction house. The move came on Feb. 28, less than ten days after Arnault bought France's leading auction house L'Etude Tajan. Arnault controls a wealth of high-end brands, including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Dom Perignon and Moet & Chandon.

The terms of the Piasa purchase, which Pinault made through his holding company Artemis, were not disclosed. But Piasa reported sales totaling $41.4 million last year, and the deal with Artemis should afford access to capital to improve its operations. A Piasa spokesperson said that no merger plans with Christie's were afoot.

By contrast, Arnault plans to group Tajan with Phillips, the world's third-largest auctioneer, in the former headquarters of the Antenne 2 TV channel at 22 avenue Montaigne, a prime location facing the Drouot-Montaigne salesrooms.

The war between the two French tycoons will doubtless continue. Arnault has outmaneuvered Pinault on the Internet battlefield with a global investment of $500 million. Still he feels like a midget in the art business, as Phillips and Tajan combined do only about $300 million in sales a year, while Christie's and Sotheby's both did $2 billion in 1999.

The situation would be completely different if Arnault could lay his hands on Sotheby's. However, in a Paris press conference last week, Sotheby's executive vice-president Robin Woodhead denied that Sotheby's owner A. Alfred Taubman had any intention of surrendering control of the auction house. "Mr. Taubman will not sell his shares," he said. "The idea of a possible acquisition by Mr. Bernard Arnault or eBay is totally unfounded."

As for Pinault, he won the latest public-relations battle on Mar. 9 with the inauguration of Christie's plush new Paris headquarters on the avenue Matignon. Some 3,200 guests toured the building before 160 happy few had a private dinner with Pinault and his wife.


ADRIAN DARMON writes on art from Paris.