PROFILE: GERARD LOUIS DREYFUS

Absentee landlord to a Canadian house of glitter

A jet-setter's jet-setter with a flair for fortunes

Barbara Amiel December 15 1980
PROFILE: GERARD LOUIS DREYFUS

Absentee landlord to a Canadian house of glitter

A jet-setter's jet-setter with a flair for fortunes

Barbara Amiel December 15 1980

Absentee landlord to a Canadian house of glitter

PROFILE: GERARD LOUIS DREYFUS

A jet-setter's jet-setter with a flair for fortunes

Barbara Amiel

There is at least one duchess here, a handful of multimillionaires and the granddaughter of actor Leslie Howard. The Beautiful People have been flown in, like fresh strawberries in winter or Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea, their international chic wrapped up in St. Laurent and Ungaro, Bulgari and Harry Winston. The Duchess de Cadaval is busy explaining why she is wearing this delightful but inappropriate black-and-white summer-weight Yves St. Laurent dress: “I just came in from Portugal and left my winter clothes in Paris,” she says, declining another glass of Lanson. Toronto murmurs sympathetically.

The occasion is the opening of the Andre Oliver menswear shop in Toronto’s answer to Bond Street and Madison Avenue—the retail and condominium complex located in midtown called Hazelton Lanes. Oliver himself is standing in one corner of his new shop, next to a table strewn with a rainbow palette of cashmere sweaters ($225); next to him, padded -shoulder - to - padded - shoulder, as it were, is intimate friend Pierre Cardin. Completing the tableaux vivants are professional New York socialites Nan Kempner and Dreda Mele, hair pulled tightly back from cheekbones and sporting a fashionable thinness that looks just a little frantic.

Their attention is directed at a sallow little man with a bow tie and the slightly pugnacious expression of a shoe salesman or fast-food pusher. Now a woman, seemingly twice his height, is next to him, whispering. For one instant the two of them stand facing their guests with cool smiles. Another opening, another show. Paris-born Gerard Louis Dreyfus, proprietor of all he surveys—including this new menswear shop in his Hazelton Lanes development-flanked by Toronto’s Krystyne Griffin. They are the new team in town, hardworking and flamboyant, pushing into the Canadian retailing and real estate world with a management style that stuns competitors and intimidates employees. “We’re a combination of the old and the new—the best of two worlds,” says Griffin, “and we understand one another précisément.”

To understand, even imprécisément, what makes this team run, one needs to assimilate all sorts of random facts and impressions. Begin with Gerard Louis Dreyfus, 48, chairman of the multinational Louis-Dreyfus Company. Four years ago Dreyfus established DWS Holdings Canada Ltd. to operate his Canadian real estate ventures. The LouisDreyfus name has been around the business community for nearly 130 years, since the time Gerard’s greatgrandfather Leopold Louis Dreyfus, son of a farmer in then-independent Alsace, first put some sacks of wheat on a cart and moved them across the Swiss border to sell in Basel. Out of this transaction developed one of the world’s largest grain companies, diversified by successive Dreyfus scions into shipping, banking and manufacturing.

Today, the American-educated Gerard (known in English-speaking countries, unaccountably, as William Louis Dreyfus) has diversified the company further into real estate development with hotels in Europe and a part-interest in the Four Seasons, Washington, DC. Canada is the key in the multinational’s expansion plans—hence Hazelton Lanes. Of course the wheat merchant’s eye has always been focused firmly north of the 49th parallel.

But now it is the developer’s eye that is fixed on Canadian cities. Wearing his real estate hat, Gerard Louis Dreyfus is bullish on Canada: “It’s got large space, few people and has avoided the boom syndrome. There’s planning stability here.” Current projects include: the under-construction $60-million twin office towers in Montreal at 1981 McGill College Ave., and the Les Terrasses office complex directly across the street; in Toronto, the Hazelton Lanes condominium and retail complex with a new, posh 250-room hotel scheduled for construction in spring, 1981, to be built and operated by Louis-Dreyfus. As well, the company is “looking” at properties in Vancouver and Calgary.

In the meantime, a number of people are looking at William Louis Dreyfus. “I know his father Pierre well,” says Toronto lawyer R. Fraser Elliott, “and his son William seems charming. But I don’t feel that I actually know him.”

Few do. In person, the newest Dreyfus president tends to listen impassively, choosing his words with a suspicion bred perhaps from his own days as a working journalist. Some personal details emerge hesitantly from him. “I was the black sheep of the family,” he says, and declines to elaborate very much except to say that for almost 20 years he was estranged from his father in Paris.

He left Paris to come to America and study law. After becoming a corporate lawyer, he deserted the legal profession to work as a journalist in Raleigh, N.C. His idealism, reflected in his involvement with the American civil rights movement in the ’60s, came tinged with a questionable pragmatism. “If I couldn’t find the right black family to illustrate a point, I made them up.” A curious ambivalence seems always to hover about him: a fascination for power tinged with a slight feeling of distaste for the trappings; a Parisian’s snobbery to move in the right circles streaked with a sense of American egalitarianism; irritation if reference is made to—to put it graciously—his tousled appearance, and a studied determination to show up looking very prole-

pressured to take. “I’ve never cried on a job before,” claimed several ex-employees, citing the extraordinarily long hours put in by Griffin and Dreyfus and the resulting high-voltage tempers and high expectations of lesser mortals. When the phone rang at the newly enlarged offices of DWS Holdings Jast week, an employee tore across the office to answer it. The caller was checking on the advertising copy for a sportswear shop. “My God,” said new employee Connie McKay, breathlessly, “it was

William Louis Dreyfus. Can you imagine if I’d let the phone ring more than three times?” She collapses.

Details of the company’s activities are difficult to come by. The privately owned multinational firm does not make its dealings public. “We have assets of about $900 million,” says Louis Dreyfus with some vagueness, and then with a little smile, “and profits on those assets of not less than five per cent annually and not more than 20 per cent.” The diversification into real estate forms about 10 per cent of the company’s activity and about 20 per cent of its new investment. “And a quarter of our total effort,” says Dreyfus.

Hence the party. Much effort goes into these boutique openings. In Ha-

tarian. “I remember when I first met him,” says associate Krystyne Griffin, “he had no socks, holes in his shoes, corduroy slacks and red suspenders. He charmed me right away.”

Perhaps it was this charm, which can instantly disarm the unwary, that helped him return to the bosom of his family. Who knows? Whatever distanced him from the chateau-and-skyscraper world of the Louis Dreyfus empire dissolved in 1974 when he returned to Paris to become the new president of Louis-Dreyfus et Cie in a spectacular reconciliation.

Now, though he spends only four days a month in Canada, he oversees every detail of his company’s operation from his headquarters in Stamford, Conn. “He wants to know everything,” says Griffin, “every detail down to the éolor of the balloons Pm putting up for decoration.” Some employees find the highly personalized, occasionally erratic decision-making procedures too

zelton Lanes, Louis Dreyfus is not just a builder and landlord—he is a shopkeeper who directly owns a number of the stores. The reason for this stems out of initial problems with Hazelton Lanes. Toronto developer Richard Wookey had the extraordinary vision that turned the dilapidated row houses of Toronto’s Yorkville district into the Via Condotti/Bond Street/Madison Avenue of Toronto: all sandblasted, high-rental, people-watching chic. But he didn’t have the necessary staying power to weather early financial problems with his Hazelton Lane development. In what observers refer to as a “bloody god-awful battle” that dragged on for a year between Louis Dreyfus and Wookey, the 50-per-cent share of the project Wookey had ended up in his partner Dreyfus’ hands. When it was all over, the Hazelton Lanes Wookey left in late 1977 was a strange mix of carriage trade shops and little booths selling mugs. Stores were going out of business with unnerving frequency. Louis Dreyfus made a virtue out of necessity. Now 100-per-cent owner of the Lanes, he became fully committed to making it work. Which was where Krystyne Griffin came in.

Polish-born, Montreal-bred, Griffin, 40, worked in Paris for the international IBM corporation, returned to Canada as hostess at the Pavilion d’Honneur for Expo 67 and then talked her way into revamping Eaton’s public relations department. In person she is five feet, 11 inches of Haute Eccentric, an imperious presence in little-girl, kneeskimming dresses, wire-rimmed glasses and a laconic manner in any of the four languages she can use. She brought to the partnership a hard-nosed business savvy and first-rate European contacts. In combination with the financial clout of Louis Dreyfus, this meant the magic names that had eluded Wookey could be lured to the complex—for a price. The price was heavy investment by Louis Dreyfus. He paid and they came: La Maison Davidoff cigars (50-per-cent owned by Dreyfus), Turnbull and Asser (50 per cent), Courrèges (100 per cent) and so on.

For Louis Dreyfus it was a new diversification—into retailing. “That sort of setup,” says financial analyst Ira Gluskin, “is often a sign of weakness. It means you really want a chocolate mousse store and three have gone bankrupt so you bankroll one yourself. Still, with the kind of assets the Louis-Dreyfus company has, he could probably afford to lose everything he’s investing in real estate and retailing.” That financial clout is persuasive. Last October, Toronto’s high-fashion czar, Eddie Creed, president of CREED’S, arrived at his office to find a letter from Yves St. Laurent cancelling the association between St. Laurent and the store. St. Laurent had finally succumbed to Griffin and Dreyfus. The offer neither party could turn down consisted of three separate St. Laurent shops to be opened in Hazelton Lanes (February, 1981), Montreal and Calgary, and run by Griffin. “I think he’ll make my dream work in the end,” says Wookey. “He’s got the means to stay in the game and wait things out in his own time.”

Others are more skeptical. “It will be interesting to watch,” says Gluskin, “whether the market can maintain the high-priced retail trade he has now brought into Hazelton Lanes. Whether he can not only build a hotel of the luxury type he’s talking about but operate it as well. The rules aren’t with him, but then the exception proves the rule.”

“I’m here to stay,” says Louis Dreyfus. “I have a need and a use for a special kind of energy and Canada fits it perfectly.”

It’s interesting to watch.