Liliane Bettencourt, who has died aged 94, was the French heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune who became embroiled in a family feud that exploded into a financial and political scandal involving former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In recent years, Forbes magazine had ranked Bettencourt as the richest woman in the world, with an estimated net worth of about $45bn (£33.5bn). As of 2015, she had a 33 per cent stake in L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics firm.
The only child of French chemist Eugène Schueller, Bettencourt began working at her father’s Paris-based beauty and hair-care company as an apprentice at 15 and modelled for the firm’s early labels. She inherited the company after her father’s death in 1957 and retained a controlling stake in L’Oréal after it went public on the Paris stock exchange in 1963.
Alongside L’Oréal chief François Dalle, she expanded the firm’s reach, adding cosmetics and fragrance lines and acquiring other beauty businesses, including Lancôme, Kiehl’s, Maybelline and Garnier.
Other than being photographed for luxury magazines and society pages, Bettencourt remained largely out of the media limelight until details about her troubled relationship with her daughter Françoise became public.
In 2007, her daughter sued François-Marie Banier, a celebrity photographer and playboy 25 years Bettencourt’s junior, for allegedly exploiting her mother’s mental frailty to obtain gifts totalilng more than $1bn, including cash payments, Picasso and Matisse paintings and a private island in the Seychelles.
Bettencourt-Meyers decided to take legal action against Banier after her mother made him the sole heir to her fortune. She blamed Banier for the strained relationship between mother and daughter. “The strategy of Mr. Banier was not just to divide and conquer. It was to break and conquer,” she said in court testimony. “It was programmed destruction.”
By most accounts, the…