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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most