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Yves Carcelle, empire builder at Louis Vuitton, dies

Yves Carcelle, the charismatic executive who transformed Louis Vuitton from a staid French maker of handbags and travel trunks into one of the world's most recognizable luxury brands, died on Sunday in Paris. He was 66.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the parent company of Louis Vuitton, confirmed the death in a statement on Monday without specifying a cause. The French news media reported that Carcelle learned last year that he had kidney cancer.

Carcelle, who was promoted to the top post at the Louis Vuitton brand in 1990 and later ran LVMH's fashion division, was the main architect of an aggressive expansion into Asia and other international markets that elevated leather goods emblazoned with Louis Vuitton's distinctive LV logo into one of fashion's most coveted status symbols.

Bertrand Rindoff Petroff | Getty Images

In 1997, he gave the brand further impetus by recruiting Marc Jacobs to design shoes and ready-to-wear clothing for Louis Vuitton, which also added watches, jewelry and other accessories.

"He really gave his life to that place," Mr. Jacobs said on Monday from New York. "But while he knew it was a huge business and he was building it, he never forgot it was also something he enjoyed, and it was fun. And that made all the difference."

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Carcelle joined LVMH in 1989 as head of strategy. In 1990 he became chairman and chief executive of its Louis Vuitton Malletier unit, as it was then called. He was put in charge of the LVMH Fashion Group in 1998, overseeing not just Louis Vuitton but a stable of prominent brands, including Loewe, Céline, Givenchy, Donna Karan, Kenzo, Berluti, Fendi and Thomas Pink. He stepped down as head of fashion in 2002 to focus exclusively on Louis Vuitton.

Under Carcelle's leadership, the number of LVMH boutiques doubled to 1,300 in more than 50 countries, while revenue soared almost tenfold to nearly 10 billion euros, or $13 billion. Louis Vuitton remains the French luxury giant's main source of revenue, accounting for more than two-thirds of the group's fashion and leather goods sales.

Carcelle was born on May 18, 1948, in Paris. A mathematics major, he earned degrees from France's elite École Polytechnique and from Insead business school. Far removed from the glittering halls of LVMH, he started his career in the less glamorous realms of household cleaning products and polyurethane foams for a series of companies at which he held marketing and product management roles. He later worked with the Absorba clothing brand and was president of Descamps, a French maker of high-end household linens.

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He retired from Louis Vuitton in 2012 and was succeeded by Jordi Constans, a Spanish businessman who resigned a month later for health reasons. Mr. Constans was replaced by Michael Burke, a French-American businessman and longtime LVMH executive, who remains in that role.

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Until early this year, Carcelle had been vice president of the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation, a multimillion-dollar, Frank Gehry-designed museumron the outskirts of Paris that will house LVMH's vast collection of contemporary art. It is scheduled to open next month. He had also been an adviser to the LVMH chairman, Bernard Arnault, and served on the board of the French luxury industry lobby, the Comité Colbert.

Carcelle was named a chevalier, or knight, of the Legion of Honor in 2004 for his contributions to French cultural life.

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"He had this capacity of seeing the big picture while focusing on the smallest details," Mr. Arnault's son Antoine, who worked closely with Carcelle at Louis Vuitton, said in an email. "This perfect mix of left brain/right brain that is what you search for in top managers."

The younger Mr. Arnault, who is now chief executive of the Berluti brand, added: "His charm and charisma were unparalleled. However, he was a fierce negotiator, and you didn't want to get in his way."

Carcelle is survived by his wife, Rebecca, and their two sons, as well as by three children from a previous marriage, Women's Wear Daily reported.

Vanessa Friedman contributed reporting from New York.

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