Famed French 'nose' on trial for racism
Paris - French parfumier Jean-Paul Guerlain, for decades the "nose" behind the world-famous perfume brand, went on trial Thursday on racism charges after televised remarks caused widespread offence.
Asked in an October 2010 interview about how he created the Samsara scent, Guerlain replied using a racial slur - the French term "negre" - and implied that black people are lazy.
"For once, I set to work like a negro. I don't know if negroes have always worked like that, but anyway..." he said.
The incident sparked widespread condemnation, with anti-racism groups saying it highlighted deep prejudice in French society.
On Thursday, the 75-year-old heir to one of the world's oldest perfume houses appeared in court here to face charges of making "racist insults" during an interview on French public television.
Guerlain, who entered the court on crutches, faces up to six months in prison and a €22 500 fine.
At the time, his comments were quickly denounced, with France's Movement Against Racism and for Friendship (MRAP) saying the remarks revealed "the state of ordinary racism that still permeates French society".
Guerlain apologised but protests erupted outside the company's boutique on the Champs Elysees in Paris and there were calls for a boycott of Guerlain and its owner, luxury brand giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH).
Recognise 3 000 smells
"I offer my apologies to all those who might have been hurt by my shocking words," Guerlain said in a statement after the interview. He said the comments "in no way reflect my true thinking, but were a slip of the tongue".
The Guerlain company also distanced itself from the remarks, saying his words were "unacceptable" and noting that Guerlain had not been a shareholder since 1996 or on salary since 2002.
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 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.