Scent king in court for throwaway TV lines that caused a stink across France

First it was John Galliano in the dock for racism. Now fellow style icon Jean-Paul Guerlain is on trial

One of the world's most successful parfumiers apologised in court yesterday for making "imbecilic" and "old fashioned" remarks about black people on French television.

Jean-Pierre Guerlain, 75, grandson of the founder of the eponymous French perfume house, declared that he was "not at all a racist," adding that he "profoundly regretted and apologised to the black community" for comments that he made during a television interview 16 months ago.

Mr Guerlain, inventor of 33 perfumes including several iconic brand names, went on trial in Paris for "proffering racial insults", after complaints by anti-racist groups. The controversy was sparked by an interview on French television in October 2010, where he was asked how he came to invent his celebrated Samsara scent in 1989. Mr Guerlain explained that he had made a special effort, including 33 trial recipes, because he had wanted to seduce an English woman.

"For once, I worked like a nigger," he said. "I'm not sure that niggers have always worked so hard as all that but still..." The word that Mr Guerlain used – "nègre"– was once in common usage across French but, like its English language equivalent, it is now regarded as demeaning and unacceptable. His comments led to protests and calls to boycott Guerlain perfumes in France and the United States, embarrassing Bernard Arnault, the head of the LVMH luxury goods empire that counts Guerlain among its brands. LVMH also owns Christian Dior, the fashion house that sacked the fashion designer John Galliano for making anti-Semitic remarks.

Some French anti-racist groups have suggested that Mr Guerlain's comments symbolise a resurgence of racism in France and have made comparisons with Mr Galliano's conviction last year for his remarks. Others say that the Mr Guerlain's comments represent an unthinking "ordinary racism" among older members of the haute bourgeoisie.

The lawyer for SOS Racisme, Patrick Klugman, told the court yesterday that Mr Guerlain's comments amounted to a form of "jovial racism" that were "disturbingly classic" but "exceptionally serious". Mr Guerlain, who appeared in court on crutches, explained that he "came from another generation".

"The first part of what I said is something that I heard throughout my youth when I worked in my grandfather's garden," he said. "It was a current expression at the time."

The second part of his comment - about black people "not working so hard as all that" was, he said, "an imbecility on my part". "I wanted to make the interviewer laugh and I regret it," he said. "I regret it very profoundly and offer all my apologies to the black community for this imbecility."

The court delayed its judgement until 29 March. If found guilty, he could, in theory, face up to six months in prison and fines of up to €22,500 (£19,000).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all