Scented Scandals: Jean-Paul Guerlain on Trial for Racism

Ooh, I love me some Guerlain gossip. So Jean-Paul Guerlain was Guerlain’s perfumer from 1959 until 2002. He stayed on as an advisor to current Guerlain perfumer Thierry Wasser until 2010. In a 2010 televised interview, JPG said, “For once, I set out to work like a n*****. I don’t know if n*****s ever worked that hard.” As a result of this statement, he is now on trial for racist insults (which is indeed a crime in France). He faces up to 6 months in prison and a 22,500 euro fine. JPG has since made several apologetic statements, including “I come from another generation. It was a common expression at the time”, “My comments in no way reflect my true thinking, but were a slip of the tongue”, and “I am anything but racist”.

My take? I suspect that Jean-Paul Guerlain is a garden-variety racist. He would probably never participate in a physical hate crime, but he holds racist views. His comments most likely do indeed “reflect his true thinking”, which is that black people do not work as hard as white people. Jean-Paul Guerlain is 75, but after watching a few of his interviews, I see no signs of dementia. He is fully aware of his surroundings and has adapted in many ways to modern times (for example, he is responsible for perfumes such as Champs-Elysees, which are intended to appeal to more modern tastes). Additionally, whatever generation JPG may think that he comes from, there has never been a generation for which “n*****” was a particularly nice word. The notion that JPG was unaware that his words were offensive is laughable.

I say that Jean-Paul Guerlain is guilty of the crime of which he is accused. What do you think?

21 thoughts on “Scented Scandals: Jean-Paul Guerlain on Trial for Racism

  1. I don’t know how I feel about this. Yes, his comments were racist & he likely knows that, but I grew up in the south and unfortunately experienced a generation of older people who were still inherently racist. I found their rhetoric extremely offensive but they were more or less ‘harmless’. It didn’t excuse it, but sometimes I’m not certain if they realized what they sounded like to other people. It ranged from the ‘good ole’ days’ in the south — the 1930s & 1940s which were in NO WAY WHATSOEVER the good ole’ days for anyone but well to do white people — to the comments of, ‘It’s okay, I like -insert random African-American who’s made themselves white enough to be acceptable to racists-‘ as if the latter would excuse their comments and make them seem less racist. Like they’re only racist against ‘those types’ or whatever. It was sickening & frustrating & I’ve gotten into several heated argument with a few older relatives but … I still just don’t know.

    If it had been a ranty tirade about how much he hated black people it might make things a little clearer. It was wrong what he said but I don’t know how much active hatred was behind his words and think prison time seems a little extreme. Fine him, make him do some type of community service. We all know if convicted he’d likely do a couple of days prison time anyway & then just walk out into the world unchanged.

  2. I once got a ticket for shooting a red light, or an amber light turning to red, to be exact. As a friend observed at the time: “You weren’t done for jumping the light – you were done for failing to observe a police car in your rear view mirror.”

    It is not a perfect analogy, but I mean to say that JPG’s main crime was to fly in the face of the Zeitgeist. As Klytaemnestra says, it wasn’t “a ranty tirade”, full of obvious vitriol. I think he may be “somewhat racist” – and in that not untypical of his generation – but not actively so. This was an aside about working hard that got out of hand when it turned into an offensive and ill-judged quip.

    For just as words like f*** have become devalued and lost some of their charge over time, so the “n” word has become more shocking and inadmissable than in my youth, or JPG’s. I was an avid reader of Agatha Christie’s novels as a teenager, who famously had to rename “Ten Little N******”, but back then the “n” word wasn’t overtly derogatory in Britain, also not in the phrase “n” in the woodpile. My generation was probably naive, but we certainly weren’t racist – the word simply didn’t have that disparaging resonance it has today. But times have changed, and JPG – in his figurehead position – should have changed with them. It is the second part of his comments that are more damning than the first, where he suggests that “n*****s” haven’t worked as hard as he had. If he had stopped at “worked like a n****” I might not have thought him racist at all, **but where he goes with that thought is simply not acceptable**. In summary, tactless, thoughtless and a bit racist, but I don’t think prison is the right punishment either, or the prisons would be overflowing with octogenarians.

  3. I couldn’t have said it better than Vanessa and klytaemnestra.

    And in addition to that:

    Whether or not I agreed with the way things went is simply not my business. That he is a celebrity doesn’t make his personal life and thinking fair game.

    My only interest in Guerlain is his profession­al contributi­on,

    And I would like to state the same thing goes for Polanski’s ‘controversial’ case (I REVERENCE his valuable contribution as a FILMMAKER),
    for Elia Kazan controversial case (I REVERENCE his valuable contribution as a FILMMAKER),
    for the music of Wagner,
    for the philosophy of Heidegger,
    for the work of Edgar Allan Poe (who certainly was another RACIST)


    and of course!!!! for Woody Allen, whose Mia/Soon-Y­i swap’s maybe was icky, creepy, cheesy for some people…. But not ILLEGAL. Feh.
    (let’s not forget 19 year old Mia Farrow marrying 41 year old Frank Sinatra, Huh! What a scandal!)

    I can’t understand people who need to spew their hatred on internet are as self-loathing as Woody and far less valuable.
    Fact: His movies and books will be around in 100 years, if the Earth lasts that long.
    Those sorry, celebrity-obsessed stone-casters will not.

    And I challenge them to watch all his movies and not laugh at a single one.

    So, f…… EXACT same for Guerlain and the magic of his Perfumes. I challenge them to smell all his Perfumes and not smile at a single one.

    I don’t care a fig about knowing of Guerlain in any other form.

    1. Picasso was a great physical and/or psychological abuser and a great manipulator of women,
      ……….. and what about Miles Davis?….


      it’s a NEVER ENDING list of major and minor sinners….

  4. I believe he is guilty..certainly under the rules of the nation in which he resides. My problem with some of the comments excusing his behavior because of his age or generation…is that he is someones father..grandfather..uncle..cousin..mentor..friend..and so his conduct and words influence a generation other than his own. You see this often with small children who have been raised by racist parents…typically we blame the parents for the sins of the child..because presumably the parents are adults capable of mature thought and able to curb what they say and how they say it. I encounter racism..soft and hard in my life..and it makes me feel like weeping every time..someone makes an excuse for something like this which many people would consider “soft” racism. I find it inexcusable in anyone..of any race or gender or creed to not be able to police their own thoughts and words knowing that they can be hurtful to people.

    Also..I would just like to say..that just because others have sinned and are just as guilty of crimes..moral or doesn’t excuse him or anyone..really. I also don’t believe that transgressions take away from your contributions..unless said contributions are directly attributed to said transgressions.

    1. I find any CRIME inexcusable in anyone, but his comments were quickly denounced and now he faces up to six months in prison and a fine of 22,500 euros.

      I’m just saying that we wouldn’t knew of any transgressions unless their contributions and their fame. And Ok, so that’s Life!! That’s the price of fame.
      But it’s a TRUTH that since we’re judging their words is like to make him guilty for being great and famous, partialy.

      Nonetheless I agree, a person still has to responsible for their actions, no matter how much trauma they’ve undgergone. Hurting others and generally disrupting relations is not cool and should be judged. I think judgment is completely valid since we’re always going to be judging each other ….but the question is how to do it rightly —-> (that means: Well let’s not get hysterical!!! Let WOODY ALLEN be, for for pity’s sake! He’s not THAT CRIMINAL some american people pretends to show).

      And I mean we can have compassion for the person not be harsh or mean in our criticism/judgment, and handle them with care, and, in other words, we can gain wisdom—that is true judgment.

      After all we are not the Ultimate Judge of the Universe.

      PS: and please tell me what should we do NOW with EVERY historical figure who has a racist way of thinking… like Edgar Allan Poe, and so on…???

      1. Well… Edgar Allan Poe is dead. I don’t have a lot of trouble with his work – which is MOSTLY non-racist – staying in the public lexicon. The offensive stuff isn’t, in my opinion, getting shoved in front of schoolchildren.

        I’ve never liked Woody Allen’s work, so his behavior with his wife’s adopted, now-grown, child, though reprehensible in my opinion, didn’t make much of a difference. No, he’s not a criminal. But I find very little to admire in his work or his character.

        Roman Polanski seems to me to be a very different case. I’ve enjoyed some of his films, but the evidence as I understand it seems clear that he pushed sexual contact on a very young girl. That IS illegal in the country where it took place, as well as morally appalling, and I feel that some sort of official punishment is appropriate. Should no one ever go see a Polanski film in the future? That seems a ridiculous response, but I do consider that he should serve time for his conviction instead of getting preferential treatment for being a well-known filmmaker.

        Jail time seems a bit… silly… for making the offensive statement that JPG did make in a public forum. I might feel differently about it had he incited racial violence, but this seems merely prejudicial and very much a generational attitude that he has not shed rather than an actionable hate crime. The man’s in his 70s. For heaven’s sake, waive the jail time, let him pay his fine and get on with his retirement – but again, it’s the law in the country of which he’s a citizen, and he’s subject to the law as much as any other French citizen.

        1. I reverence POE, and my only complaint to his (dead) person is about his well known ‘racial antagonism’- showed in some, like Pym’ and other few tales. As you’ve said his work is mostly not, isn’t it? well, as far as I know, the same goes for mr guerlain’s work. He’s on trial being judged by unfortunate declarations, WTF!?! Well i got to leave now, it’ very interesting discussion 😉

        2. I reverence POE, and my only complaint to his (dead) person is about his well known ‘racial antagonism’- showed in some, like Pym’ and other few tales. As you’ve said his work is mostly not, isn’t it? well, as far as I know, the same goes for mr guerlain’s work. He’s on trial being judged by unfortunate declarations, WTF!?! Well i got to leave now, it’ very interesting discussion 😉 ………

        3. I reverence POE, and my only complaint to his (dead) person is about his well known ‘racial antagonism’- showed in some, like Pym’ and other few tales. As you’ve said his work is mostly not, isn’t it? well, as far as I know, the same goes for mr guerlain’s work. He’s on trial being judged by unfortunate declarations, WTF!?! Well i got to leave now, it’ very interesting discussion 😉 ………bye!

  5. EchoCharlie makes a good point there about the duty of JPG or his generation as a role model for younger family members. My own father was quite racist but he didn’t pass those views on to me, fortunately – I was always apologising for his comments to my friends. Though as EchoCharlie says, the contrary might be the more likely outcome in a “nurture” situation.

    And I have to say that Woody Allen films are amongst my very favourites, but I have always tried to tune out to his personal life.

    1. PS And of course the whole quote would have been in French, not English. It could be that the word “n” in French has **always** had its derogatory charge, whereas my point was that in British English the stigma associated with its English equivalent has escalated over time.

  6. In the End this is going be the 1984 Orwell’s Profecy, OMG…
    It has become a Reality (Show).

    Everything it’s going to be censored or under ‘criminal’ suspicion. I mean EVERYTHING. The way of speaking, the old proverbs, even the jokes…! I’m really worried about the future of the Sense of Humor.
    What about the funniest ‘jokes’ of all times? … what about one of the greats of late years, Andy Kaufman, playing Latka role -a dumb immigrant from a very strange (presumably Eastern European) land?

    What about most racist themes in British popular comedy of the ’70’s?? What about the harsh sarcasm targeted by Monthy Phython??
    Fawlty Towers featured mistreatment of Spanish waiter, Manuel.
    As a spanish, should I feel offended???? Naaaaaaaaaaaaah! I’m laughing out loud.

    I’m really FRIGHTENED about the times we are living….

  7. JPGs comment is obviously racist to me, mostly in a thoughtless selfcentered way though. In Sweden it wouldn’t be criminal since it’s not meant “to whip up hatred against a group” which is how the Swedish law is formulated. To me the fact that he lost his job is a most fitting punishment and perhaps a fine as well…
    It is a difficult balance sometimes between freedom of speach and the need to curb hateful expressions. People often want to shrug of the need for political correctness but words can be poison and sometimes deadly- I heartily recommend Zimbardos book “The Lucifer Effect Understanding how good people turn evil” about this.
    On another note, it is easier to ignore artists moral deficiencies when enough time has passed isn’t it, I can enjoy listening to Wagner (severely narcissistic womaniser) or enjoy the music of Gesualdo- ignoring the fact that he was guilty of murdering his wife and her lover…

  8. I have just thought – that US show “Comedy Roasts” seems to push the envelope of taste to outrageous lengths. Some of it is unwatchable or toe curling at best – though also partly funny and clever. On the whole I do find it more shocking than not and I consider myself quite hardboiled. So I was surprised to see such a series allowed to be honest, especially in these days of political correctness and “holiday cards” and whatnot.

    PS There is an interesting discussion about the JPG case going on right now on NST!

    1. What’s NST, Vanessa?… Oh my, this topic is really addictive, last night we just chat during the dinner with some friends! At the end all was funny… some friend of mine suggested if the interviewer was the real racist and he just wanted to put the man in a tight corner: ‘so mr. Guerlain… Have you ever worked like a n……. in your life?’ and he just answered ‘Oh no!… much more!!’ hahahahahah!!

      Another friend just commented about mr.Guerlain’s jailer, cuffing his wrist to him for an hour or two and thinking ‘OMG, this old f… man smells so damn f…. good!’

  9. I agree with you completely. In fact, the way so many perfume fans rushed to make excuses for M. Guerlain after that event really shadowed my opinion of the perfume world in general. What, as long as the guy makes good perfume it’s okay if he’s a racist?? As you say, he’s clearly compos mentis. Yes, he just repeated a racist “saying”. But you know what? I don’t repeat racist sayings, and neither do the people I like. (I grew up hearing people say “That’s mighty white of you” when complementing someone else on how magnanimous they were. Once I got old enough to figure out what that meant? I stopped saying it. It’s not that radical to think a bit for yourself.)

    I’m sorry that M. Guerlain’s career had to end this way but unfortunately see nothing and no one to blame but himself.

    1. … probably we’ll heard that he’s releasing another perfume in short, called ‘Je suis Votre Captif’ (I’m your Prisoner).

      – What the hell I’m so disappointed. I’ve just watched the video of mr. guerlain and yeah… I discovered he had feet of clay. He should indeed have more respect. That’s arrogance! The first he said, is a racist expression? of course it is, but it’s not the worst, since it could be considered a bad/old ‘joke’ from another times.
      But what follows after the expression is really what is racist, I didn’t figured it was like that, sorry, I’ll become much better informed next time, I’m a sort of naïve. He probably had not deserve going to prison, but he’s an asshole for sure. –

      1. We all want to believe the best, especially of the people we look up to. There’s absolutely no way that he’ll do jail time at his age, I imagine that if he is found guilty his only punishment will be a monetary fine.

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