Kering Topper Francois-Henri Pinault Puts Women-Focused Initiatives Front and Center

At the helm of luxury powerhouse Kering since 2005, Brittany-born billionaire businessman Francois-Henri Pinault signed a landmark deal with Cannes Film Festival to launch the Women in Motion program in 2015, at a time when the festival was being attacked for the under-representation of women in the official selection.

Not only did the initiative receive the full endorsement of the fest’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux and president Pierre Lescure, it also attracted a bevy of stars and filmmakers — Salma Hayek (Pinault’s wife), Isabelle Huppert, Claire Denis and Matthias Schoenaerts, among others — who participated in Women in Motion talks.

Fremaux is also involved in selecting the recipients of the Women in Motion Awards, which last year went to Jane Fonda and Megan Ellison.

The worlds of film and fashion have never been as intertwined as they are today, with actresses signed as the faces of brands and brands recruiting top directors to make promotional films and web series. Pinault — whose company encompasses such fashion houses as Gucci, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent — was ahead of that trend.

Pinault launched his movie career a decade ago with “Home,” the first feature-length documentary financed by a brand — PPR, which later became Kering. Produced by Luc Besson, “Home” was released day-and-date across multiple territories and was the highest-rated doc on French pubcaster France 2 in 2009. In 2015, Kering’s environmental doc “Ice and the Sky,” from Luc Jacquet, was independently selected to play at Cannes on closing night. It was bought by Music Box for U.S. release.

“A brand has to exist without its product; it’s got to exist through the timeless values it stands for and the dreams it instills in people’s minds,” Pinault says, citing Saint Laurent as a game-changer and an inspiration.

“[The partnership with Cannes] is an important investment for Kering, but well worth it. Cannes is a world event that has a gigantic media impact, particularly in Asia, which is why this year we’re supported by [magazine] Elle China,” says Pinault, declining to give a budget figure for the Women in Motion program.

Since launching the Kering Foundation in 2009, Pinault has shed light on violence against women, and has financed various initiatives and movies promoting women’s causes. The foundation has also backed Gucci’s campaign Chime for Change.

With Pinault’s leadership, pushing for progress through activism has always been in the group’s DNA. “We’ve always been committed to social progress,” Pinault says. “As a company, we can’t turn a blind eye on our civic responsibilities.”

The starting point of Kering’s advocacy for women’s rights was Pinault’s meeting with Hayek in 2006, he says.

“Thanks to Salma, I started discovering the violence that women face everywhere, even in countries like France (every three days, a woman dies of physical abuse in France, for instance) and the U.S. Frankly, it was a total shock.”

Empowering women was also part of a strategic move for the company, which turned into a group dedicated to luxury and sports under the impulse of Pinault a decade ago. “As we transformed the company’s strategy and organization, it became a very feminine group,” says Pinault, adding that 80% of the group’s clients are women.

Women rep 60% of Kering’s workforce and 50% of its managers, notes Pinault.

As a new wave of feminism gains momentum in Hollywood and abroad, Kering has been upping the ante: Earlier this year it joined forced with Sundance Film Festival’s Fellowship Program to host a workshop on branding, leadership and public speaking for six female directors and producers.

At Cannes, Kering will give its Women in Motion talks a more political dimension via its partnership with the European Women’s Audiovisual Network; it’s also paired with Lisa Azuelos’ new nonprofit, Together Against Gynophobia, and its short contest.

Having conquered Cannes and Sundance, Kering’s Women in Motion could likely expand to other festivals or at least support initiatives in other continents such as Asia, where it’s backing the promotion and premiere of the Women’s Foundation’s “She Objects” in Hong Kong.

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