PARIS — A racial slur made by perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain during an interview on French television last Friday is continuing to reverberate.
This story first appeared in the October 22, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Patrick Lozès, president of the French Representative Council of Black Associations, said in a blog post the group may file a complaint against Guerlain’s parent company, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“It has been six days since Mr. Guerlain made these comments, and for six long days LVMH has not moved to distance itself from them,” Lozès said.
The Association of United African Nations has urged consumers to boycott Guerlain’s products and is organizing a silent march in front of Guerlain’s flagship on the Champs-Elysées for Saturday, encouraging consumers to return any of the brand’s products.
The French television watchdog group has issued a warning to public TV station France 2, on whose news program the comment was made, for not properly controlling its broadcasting.
In addition, SOS Racisme, an organization founded in 1984 to combat racism, has said it will file a complaint.
Jean-Paul Guerlain used a derogatory term in describing how hard he worked to create the famous Samsara fragrance.
Guerlain issued a statement on Tuesday in which it said the perfumer’s comments were “intolerable” and went against the “culture, values, and ethics practiced by the enterprise, which promotes the diversity of talents of all origins.”
The statement stressed that Jean-Paul Guerlain, the fourth and last generation in a family of noses, has not been a shareholder since 1996 and retired in 2002.
“LVMH and Guerlain are one and the same thing,” said a spokeswoman for the luxury goods firm. “We are completely aligned with Guerlain and the statement that they gave.”
Lozès said he had just returned from a trip to the U.S., where he discussed the issue with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist. A Sharpton spokeswomen confirmed the talks with Lozès and said Sharpton has “agreed to come to Paris after the midterm [elections] in early November.”
“All of the major civil rights leaders told me: ‘This is not the image we have of France,’” Lozès said.
A strong international reaction could be harmful to the brand, and potentially to LVMH, just as the luxury goods industry is starting to see signs of an economic turnaround.
“Although Jean-Paul Guerlain is no longer associated with the company, his name is inexorably linked to the brand,” said Robert Passikoff, president and founder of New York-based Brand Keys Inc. “Very few consumers are going to go out of their way to discover his true status and will attach his racial slurs to both the man and the brand.”
Passikoff added, “Comments like these are not only inappropriate, but from a brand perspective, end up creating barriers in an already competitive category.”