A leading perfumer for the French perfume firm Guerlain has appeared in court on racism charges after he said in a television interview that he had “worked like a nigger” to create a new scent.
Jean-Paul Guerlain, 75, who for decades was the leading “nose” of the perfume house founded by his family, triggered street demonstrations, outrage from anti-racism groups and calls for a global boycott of Guerlain’s parent company, the luxury goods group, Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessy (LVMH), with his comments on state TV in 2010.
Asked on a news interview about the creation of his Samsara scent, he replied: “I worked like a nigger. I don’t know if niggers have always worked like that, but anyway.”
He told the court he deeply regretted the “imbecilic” remarks, saying the phrase was something he heard as a child while working in his grandfather’s garden, and was at that time acceptable. “I’m from another generation,” he said, adding that by suggesting that black people never actually worked that hard he was attempting to make a joke.
Guerlain said he was “anything but racist” and African American soldiers in France during the second world war had introduced him to chewing gum and Coca-Cola.
France’s Movement Against Racism and for Friendship (Mrap) had said his remarks revealed “the state of ordinary racism that still permeates French society”.
The law suit was brought by Mrap and several other campaign groups. Guerlain faces a maximum six months in prison and €22,500 (£18,900) fine. Judges will deliver a verdict at a later date.
Last year, the British designer John Galliano, who worked for Dior, another of LVMH’s brands, was given a suspended fine of €6,000 for two racist and antisemitic rants in a Paris bar.