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America's Cup: Christine Belanger passes away

by Suzanne McFadden, Amanda Linnell and S-W NZ 9 Oct 2018 01:25 PDT 9 October 2018
Christine Belanger and Yves Carcelle in a relaxed mood at a daily prizegiving for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland in February 2009 © Richard Gladwell

Sadly, Christine Belanger passed away suddenly earlier this week.

In the era of Louis Vuitton's support as naming sponsor, Christine along with Bruno Trouble and the late Yves Carcelle were the people who managed the events of the Louis Vuitton Cup and latterly the Louis Vuitton Pacific Trophy and 2009/10 Louis Vuitton Trophy.

Their reign lasted more than 20 years and lifted the Louis Vuitton Trophy to the point where, as an event, it outshone the America's Cup, eventually forcing a marriage of the two events.

While Bruno was the frontman, it was the ubiquitous Christine who brought that vital and subtle sprinkling of stardust, elegance and attention to detail that lifted every Louis Vuitton Cup, exemplifying the Louis Vuitton values and brand, while making everyone feel very special and honoured to have been involved. Her eyes were everywhere and missed nothing. Yves was usually in the background, sometimes visibly present, others not. But he was always there.

Together the three of them, along with Louis Vuitton (LVMH), had a quintessential synergy in that the event they created was far greater than the sum of its parts - being their individual contributions and formidable talents.

No-one had more friends in the America's Cup than Christine Belanger. She connected at all levels and did so with enormous grace in an event that is noted for its deep and enduring schisms.

If ever the modern America's Cup had a Camelot era, it finished with Christine Belanger's sad passing.

- RG

Following are a couple of stories from Suzanne McFadden and Amanda Linnell, first published in the era of the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series which describe Christine Belanger and her contribution to Louis Vuitton and the America's Cup regattas.


Behind every great Louis Vuitton event, there is a great woman. by Suzanne McFadden

For almost 20 years, that woman has been Christine Belanger.

Event director Belanger was in her element on the evening of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series welcome party last Saturday, in an elegant silver dress and smile to match.

The evening was a huge success for Belanger and her organisation team. 'This may not have been on the same scale as past Louis Vuitton parties, but it still took some time to organise. It really helps that we have been here before, that we know the people in Auckland who can help us. Those people understand what we need, and what our expectations are. It takes a lot of the stress away,' she says.

'Part of the fun is seeing everyone enjoying themselves.' Fun has been the overriding theme throughout this regatta, but Belanger stresses: 'It doesn’t mean if you are having fun that you aren’t serious. The racing is very competitive. The passion of the people here in Auckland is motivating - working in such a wonderful ambience is very positive and productive.'

Having had only a short period to organise this inaugural 10-team international regatta has been quite a challenge, admits Belanger, who has worked as an inimitable duo with Troublé for nearly 20 years.

'It was September that the event was really discussed and announced after Bruno came up with the concept, but the organisation did not really begin until October, and then over Christmas, there was little we could do,' she says. 'Things may have been a little rushed, but everyone has had the same goal, and that has been really important. We knew we could hold it here because so many people in New Zealand are always willing to help – the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, the Auckland Harbourmaster, all of the volunteers. You can’t do things alone, and we are so grateful for their help.'

The elegant Belanger, a native of France who is an employee of Louis Vuitton, had already begun organising next weekend’s prizegiving and gala dinner before the welcome party was even held. She wears many hats at this event – managing the series staff and all the administration and financial aspects, including the accounting. Then she oversees all of the events off the water and the hospitality.

'We also keep the relationship going with the teams, that’s very important,' she says.

Within a normal day, she begins at 8 am, checking the set-up at off-the-water event venues, before arriving at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series headquarters at the Emirates Team New Zealand base, to transfer payments, download a multitude of emails from Paris, and then talk to Troublé.

Every second day she also phones Yves Carcelle, the Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Malletier, who is due in Auckland this week, to keep him up to speed. Belanger hopes this event heralds a new start in big boat racing.

'I think it’s great. We are enjoying the same kind of spirit as the Louis Vuitton Cup events of 1992 and 1995 – when the boats were jewels, but the teams were happy to talk and spend time with each other off the water. We’re coming back to a more human side of the event. And we are all mixing together.' And she hints that there could be another Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in the future – and it will be even better.

'If we have more time to prepare we can definitely improve things on a logistics aspect. It doesn’t mean you have to lose the nice part of it. We could definitely be a little more professional, but it wouldn’t jeopardise the spirit of the event.'

Today, Belanger was 18th person on board Team Shosholoza in the South Africans’ final race of the regatta. Belanger has only one complaint from the experience: the race, she says, was not long enough.

She could have stayed on the sparkling waters of the Waitemata Harbour all day long.

The organiser By Amanda Linnell

The last time I spoke to Christine Belanger, it was on board a super-yacht in the Mediterranean. We were watching the racing between New Zealand and Italy (Italy won). Cool, calm and collected, she effortlessly hosted the guests of the boat - VIPs from around Europe, international press, the head of Louis Vuitton, Yves Carcelle.

Throughout the day, as the Champagne flowed and wait staff presented an endless array of food, Belanger's mobile rang non-stop. Carcelle's wife had arrived from Paris and would be coming out on a tender to join us; Prince Albert of Monaco's people called to say he, too, would be coming out for lunch; another confirmed a GQ magazine fashion shoot back on shore.

The vision of laid-back elegance, Belanger was as cool as her drink (a "piscine" - an ice cube with Champagne poured over it.)

As Events Director for the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series, Belanger is the mistress of the show - on land that is. "I organise everything to do with the trophy village, the hospitality, the venues, the media centre, and all the events around the trophy like the team parties, the prize-giving events and all the other events. I organise the logistics of it all."

Belanger's parties are always ones to remember. In Nice, where the Louis Vuitton Trophy Series was held last November, Belanger and her team threw a soiree for 700 people at a chateau on the top of a hill overlooking the harbour.

"Because it is known as la Baie des Anges - the bay of Angels - that was the theme of the night. We had visual entertainment with performers playing with white feathers and dancing in big clear balloons. The marquee was clear to make the most of the view. The food represented all the countries taking part and, of course, we had a big band."

Another night was a sit-down dinner party for 200 in a palace, which ended with Belanger and Carcelle pushing back the tables and doing the can-can with a local busking band.

"This is the creative side of my job. I love working with different people to come up with the concepts," she enthuses.

"The sense of detail is very important. This is the key to a good party. Also to keep a friendly approach and to make people feel easy. The Louis Vuitton Trophy is all about competition with a very high level of sportsmanship, but you also need to make people feel good at the end of the day. We believe good contact between the teams is very important, that's why we organise drinks at the end of the day for the teams so everyone can relax and enjoy what is going on."

She won't let on what parties she has planned here in Auckland. Surprise, it seems, is another key ingredient.

The Louis Vuitton Trophy is the company's own event as it is now, after 25 years, no longer involved with the America's Cup. Belanger, who has worked for Louis Vuitton for 20 years, follows the sailing action around the world.

Actually, she goes ahead of the action, usually arriving two months before each regatta to set things up. From Auckland, Belanger will go to Sardinia where the next event will be held. Home, when she is there, is with her husband in Nice.

"I was born and grew up in Paris, but I need to be by the sea," she says with a smile. "Plus there is a very good cultural scene in Nice, Cannes and Monaco that I enjoy - the arts, the opera."

She reports on a regular basis to Carcelle and, when in France, heads to Paris once a week for meetings. It's also a chance to shop. "I will often to go to the Louis Vuitton store and top up on outfits. Along with practical outfits for on the boat, I need to have a few for all the cocktail parties and social events. My other favourite labels are Pucci and Givenchy."

Belanger loves Auckland. She has lived here during the previous America's Cups and is inspired about bringing The Viaduct alive. "Not only for the sailors but for the people of Auckland. We want them to come to the village, meet with the teams, see the boats. We want them to interact and enjoy the entertainment."

We all in the America's and Louis Vuitton Cup family extend our thoughts and condolences to Christine's friends and family at this sad time.

Fair winds.

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