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Monday, 25 October 2010

French perfume house Guerlain faces legal action over racist comments (France)

Anti-racism groups in France are to sue the perfume house Guerlain after one of its best known perfumiers said he "worked like a nigger" to create a new scent.

Around 100 protesters gathered outside the Guerlain store on the Champs Elysées this weekend, calling for a worldwide boycott of the perfume house and its owner, the luxury brand, Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessy, because of the racist slur.

Jean-Paul Guerlain, 73, a descendent of the perfume house's founder, was interviewed on French state TV last week, and asked about the creation of a new perfume, Samsara. He replied: "I worked like a nigger. I don't know if niggers have always worked like that, but anyway."

Patrick Lozès, of France's Representative Council of Black Associations, said the French word "nègre" used by Guerlain was an "extremely pejorative" and "racist" term equivalent to "nigger" in English.

He said that the fact Guerlain felt so at ease using it on national TV was symptom of the "deep sickness" of racism in French society. He condemned LVMH and the Guerlain company for not reacting to the comments quickly enough.

US civil rights leaders, including Al Sharpton, who will visit France next month, are to ask for a meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss Guerlain's comments.

Guerlain, a famous "nose", or perfume developer, retired from the company in 2002 but acts as a consultant to their top perfumier. He issued a statement apologising for his "shocking words" and said he took full responsibility.

Guerlain head office said his words were unacceptable. LVMH released a statement condemning "all forms of racism". Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister, said Guerlain's comments were "pathetic".

The Guardian