Guerlain, a descendant of the founder of the company that bears his name, was answering questions on the lunchtime news programme of France 2 in October 2010 about a new perfume.
“For once, I starter working like a negro,” he said. “I don’t know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway…”
In French, “pour une fois, je me suis mis à travailler comme un nègre. Je ne sais pas si les nègres ont toujours tellement travaillé, enfin…”
The comments quickly led to a wave of protest around the world, with threats of boycotts of the company’s products.
Twitter users spoke of “colonial racism”, “Guerlain, the perfumer who stinks” and “the nauseating emanations of Monsieur Guerlain.”
Politicians from left and right were also quick to condemn the remarks.
Christine Lagarde, then finance minister of France, told French radio at the time that the comments were “pathetic.”
“I simply hope this is just senile and grotesque,” she said.
75-year-old Guerlain issued an apology for his choice of words, saying they “do not reflect in any way my profound thoughts but are due to an out of place misspeaking which I regret.”
Guerlain will be present at the hearing on Thursday, according to his lawyer. The maximum sentence for a public insult of a racist nature is six months in prison and a fine of €22,500 ($30,000).
The interview is here and the remarks are made about 1 minute in: