At the time of her death at age ninety-four, in September 2017, Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal fortune, was the world's richest woman and the fourteenth wealthiest person. But her gilded life took a dark yet fascinating turn in the past decade, when she became embroiled in a scandal that dominated the headlines in France.
The Bettencourt Affair, as it came to be called, started as a family drama but quickly became a massive scandal, uncovering L'Oréal's shadowy corporate history and buried World War II secrets. It all began when Liliane met François-Marie Banier, an artist and photographer who was, in his youth, the toast of Paris and a protégé of Salvador Dalí. Over the next two decades, Banier was given hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts, cash, and insurance policies by Liliane. What, exactly, was their relationship? It wasn't clear, least of all to Liliane's daughter and only child, Françoise, who became suspicious of Banier's motives and filed a lawsuit against him. But Banier has a far different story to tell.