Oct 21, 2010
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Jean-Paul Guerlain raises stink with 'negro' comment

Oct 21, 2010

Jean-Paul Guerlain. Photo : Corbis
PARIS, Oct 21, 2010 (AFP) - Outraged rights groups in France are suing Jean-Paul Guerlain, the "nose" behind the world-famous perfume brand, for racism after he said that he "worked like a negro."

Even US civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton has been drawn into the furore, and wants to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss Guerlain's response to a question about the creation of the Samsara perfume.

"For once, I set to work like a negro. I don't know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway," the 73-year-old said during an interview on France 2 television.

Guerlain, who became a consultant for the scent company after retiring in 2002 has apologised, but calls are growing for a boycott of Guerlain and its owner, luxury brand Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy (LVMH).

France's Movement Against Racism and for Friendship (MRAP) said that it would lodge a legal complaint for alleged racial insults, following on from SOS Racism and the Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN).

"Such statements reveal the state of 'ordinary racism' that still irrigates a French society that refuses to illuminate its present with the lessons of history," MRAP said.

The head of the CRAN, Patrick Lozes, met US civil rights leaders including Sharpton in New York on Monday to discuss the matter.

Sharpton wants the company to distance itself from Guerlain's statements and will soon come to France with other US rights leaders.

"Al Sharpton will ask for an audience with President Nicolas Sarkozy and will meet French political leaders so that lessons can be learned from this blunder of international consequences," Lozes said in a statement.

"I've just come back from the United States and over there everybody is shocked by the harshness of these statements. I want France to realise how behind it is compared to the Americans when it had been ahead," Lozes said.

The CRAN has said it wants to launch a coordinated, international action plan against Guerlain and LVMH.

News reader Audrey Pulvar, who is of Caribbean origin, said the declarations amounted to "spitting not only in the face of all blacks today but especially on the millions of dead, in ships' holds, at the bottom of the ocean, deported from their native land to a new world."

The head of the LKP, a labour movement on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Elie Domota, called Thursday for "all negroes and descendents of negroes... to no longer buy a single Guerlain perfume."

"We must stop these colonial, racist and pro-slavery cliches that are spread and maintained in the European mind for a century," said Domota.

The Guerlain company on Tuesday said his words were "unacceptable", while Jean-Paul Guerlain issued a statement saying he took full responsibility.

"I offer my apologies to all those who might have been hurt by my shocking words," Guerlain said in a statement, and I "alone assume all responsibility."

Guerlain said he has had no shares in the company since 1996 and has not been paid by them since 2002, voicing concern that he might have damaged the company's image and its employees.

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

The perfume house has been 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 174 years ago.

Guerlain, who reportedly spent an average 18 hours a day sniffing for new successes, spent four months every year on an international quest for essential oils and other sought-after raw materials, including jasmine from India, roses from Bulgaria and ylang-ylang from the Comoros islands.

By Sandra Lacut

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