From the podium to athletes' wardrobes, French luxury goods giant LVMH is planning to put high-end Gallic chic at the heart of the Paris Olympics, underlining how sport has become a promotional platform for even the most exclusive brands.
Parisian luxury jewellery house Chaumet, one of LVMH's lesser-known properties, was thrust into the public limelight on Thursday when its design for the medals for the July 26-August 11 extravaganza was unveiled.
The role was a departure from its usual niche making engagement rings, tiaras and diamond-studded broaches for the ultra-wealthy, with LVMH hoping to harness the huge international reach of the Olympics on home turf.
Antoine Arnault, senior LVMH executive and eldest son of company founder Bernard Arnault, said at the ceremony to reveal the medals that there was a "quasi-military organisation inside the company" working on Paris Olympics projects.
"LVMH as a partner will try to add a little touch of creativity, notably during the moments of celebration," he told reporters.
Controlled by the world's richest man, Bernard Arnault, LVMH signed up as "premium partner" for the Paris Games in July last year after months of complex negotiations about the use of its brands.
While Chaumet secured the medal honour, high-end leather goods brand Berluti is set to dress the French athletes during the spectacular opening ceremony being planned on the river Seine on July 26.
Thousands of Olympics VIPs and high-paying corporate guests are set to sip LVMH-owned Moet & Chandon champagne as well as Hennessy cognac among other premium drinks in their hospitality suites.
Dior is also set for a role -- which has not yet been announced -- as is celebrated handbag and luggage maker Louis Vuitton.
A series of LVMH-sponsored sports ambassadors will help promote the brand on social media, with 21-year-old French swimming medal hope Leon Marchand one of the earliest names revealed.
- Luxurious sports -
LVMH has declined to make public how much it is contributing to the 4.4-billion-euro ($4.7 billion) organising budget of the Games.
A source close to the negotiations told AFP at the time that it was worth around 150 million euros ($160 million) -- around one percent of the record 15.2 billion euros in net profit posted by the group last year.
Commenting on why LVMH took so long negotiating its deal with the Paris organisation, Antoine Arnault explained in July that the company "didn't want to just be a financial partner. We wanted to have a role to play in the holding of these Olympic Games."
LVMH is the world's biggest luxury goods giant, with brands across fashion, jewellery, perfume, alcohol and luggage that trade on France's centuries-old reputation as a centre of taste-making and artistry.
"France and Paris are such a potent association for luxury brands, it's kind of a no-brainer for LVMH to want to be as involved as they can be," said Robert Williams, luxury editor at The Business of Fashion, a specialist fashion publisher.
Sports were "a space where brands have been ramping up significantly in recent years".
"You have the TV viewership of sporting events, which makes it a really good placement opportunity, plus the fact that sporting events have become more luxurious," he told AFP.
"Paris will be the centre of the world for a few weeks," agreed Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst at the Bernstein Autonomous investment research group.
"Sport is one of the very few 'global languages' available for brands to communicate to all people in the world without the risk of a faux pas," he told AFP.
- 'Income inequality' -
While helping reach new audiences internationally, LVMH's role also has a strong domestic dimension in helping promote the company to French people as a socially responsible corporation, Williams added.
Bernard Arnault's fortune -- estimated at around $200 billion (185.5 billion euros) by Forbes -- and LVMH's huge profits frequently draw criticism in a country strongly attached to wealth redistribution.
"In recent years, they've made a real effort to make sure that people see them in a favourable light because you have a lot of tensions around income inequality," Williams said.
Part of that effort is being seen to "keep alive certain elements of French craftsmanship," he said.
The Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee has a range of global sponsors ranging from Coca-Cola to Toyota, leading some critics to argue that the modern Olympics have become tainted by corporate money.
Many leading French companies have signed up as local partners with the Paris organisers, with a notable exception: oil group TotalEnergies, which was vigorously opposed by Paris' eco-minded mayor, Anne Hidalgo.