Liliane Bettencourt, world’s richest woman and the owner of L’Oreal cosmetic company, has died aged 94, her family confirmed on Thursday evening.
Bettencourt, whose net worth was estimated at about €33bn (£29bn) this year, was the face of one of France’s biggest cosmetics conglomerates and had once captured the public’s imagination as the nation’s poor little rich girl.
She was the daughter of Eugène Schueller, a chemist and one-time Nazi sympathizer who made a fortune as the inventor of modern hair dye and founder of L’Oréal. Her mother died when she was five, leaving her alone with Schueller whose company she inherited.
Bettencourt hit the headlines in 2007 when members of her entourage were charged with exploiting her failing mental health – leading to a vast inquiry that threatened to engulf the then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
She left the company’s board in 2012 and was rarely seen in public afterwards, but remained in the news because of a high-profile exploitation case following her dementia diagnosis.
In a statement, the company’s chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon said: “We all had a deep admiration for Liliane Bettencourt who has always watched over L’Oreal, the company and its employees, and who was very attached to its success and development.
“She personally contributed a lot to its success for very many years. A great woman of beauty has left us and we will never forget her.”
The heiress became embroiled in a public feud with her estranged daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, in 2007.
Ms Bettencourt-Meyers filed a lawsuit over concerns that her mother was being exploited by members of her entourage amid declining health.
It was revealed in 2008 that a photographer who had befriended the heiress, François-Marie Banier, was gifted items worth hundreds of millions of dollars – including paintings by Picasso and a 670-acre island in the Seychelles.
Ms Bettencourt’s assets, including her holding stake in the cosmetics company, were placed in a trust controlled by her daughter.
One of her two grandchildren, Jean-Victor Meyers, succeeded her on L’Oreal’s board as vice chairman, and was named to guard her personal affairs.
Her father, Eugène Schueller, founded a hair dye company in 1909, which then turned into the L’Oreal group. It is now the world’s largest and most famous cosmetics company.