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Guerlain guilty of racism

AFP · 29 Mar 2012, 14:46

Published: 29 Mar 2012 14:46 GMT+02:00

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A Paris court on Thursday found Jean-Paul Guerlain, the former "nose" behind the world-famous perfume brand, guilty of racial insults after televised remarks he made about "negroes" and fined him.

Asked in a 2010 interview about how he created the Samsara scent, Guerlain replied: "For once, I set to work like a negro. I don't know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway."

The court judged that the second part of his reply was racist and fined him €6,000 ($8,000). The maximum it could have imposed was six months in prison and a €22,500 fine.

Guerlain was also ordered to pay €2,000 euros in damages to each of three anti-racist groups that were civil plaintiffs in the case.

The 75-year-old heir to one of the world's oldest perfume houses was not in court for the verdict of the trial that began last month. His lawyer said he did not know if he would appeal.

Guerlain used the word "negre", which is also commonly used in France in its other meaning signifying "ghost writer".

The 2010 incident sparked widespread condemnation, with anti-racism groups saying it highlighted deep prejudice in French society.

Earlier this month French police said they were probing additional accusations that Guerlain made an anti-immigrant rant against Eurostar workers.

Three employees of the high-speed rail firm that links Paris and London made a complaint to police accusing Guerlain of making remarks of a racist nature as they helped the wheelchair-bound pensioner board a train.

Guerlain missed the train from Paris Gare du Nord station and then allegedly launched into a tirade against the three, two of whom were black and the third of Asian origin. 

Guerlain apologised for his televised remarks in 2010 but protests erupted outside the company's Paris boutique on the Champs Elysees and there were calls for a boycott of Guerlain and its owner, luxury brand giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH).

The Guerlain company distanced itself from the remarks, saying his words were "unacceptable" and noting that Guerlain had not been a shareholder in the company since 1996 or on salary since 2002.

Story continues below…

Guerlain took over the family perfume house from his grandfather, Jacques, in 1959, by which time he could reportedly recognise 3,000 subtly different smells.

The perfume house was run by the Guerlain family for five generations and created over 300 fragrances since doctor and chemist Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain opened his first perfume boutique in Paris 183 years ago.

LVMH purchased the company in 1994 and Guerlain remained as master perfumer until he retired in 2002.

During his time at the company he was hailed as one of the great perfume "noses" of the 20th century and created famous scents including Samsara, Nahema and Jardins de Bagatelle.

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