Perfumery is a minefield. It's not only perilous to make an olfactory mistake and distance your core audience, a communication faux pas might even trigger a campaign of boycotting your product. That faux pas can take many guises, but none is more "sensitive" than a random comment which can hint of racism. Jean Paul Guerlain, apparently unintentionally, just committed just that cardinal sin.
The whole incident took place in an interview to Elise Lucet concerning his work at maison Guerlain, where he created many masterpieces, Samsara among them. Concerning the latter, Jean Paul commented: "For once, I worked like a negro. I don't know if negroes have worked that much, but anyway..."
The quote also inelegantly suggests that there might be laziness involved too. SOS Racisme and Cran have complained about this statement on France 2 this past Friday 15th October. (You can read the news and the original quote on this link) The reasons given for the outcry are mostly pedagogical, as they renounce the colonial cliches which are thus being perpetuated through such statements. Of course it's argued that these statements go against the values of LVMH and Guerlain in general, and action of distancing was demanded from LVMH, to which the behemoth company replied with a direct apology by Jean Paul himself on AFP via mail. In it Jean Paul Guerlain clarified that he is sorry for the statement and that it does not reflect his deeper thoughts. He also mentioned that he is not a representative of the company since 1996 and is not salaried since 2002, "taking full responsibility [for the faux pas], not wanting to hurt the company and its employees". His current position is of advisory to the head perfumer Thierry Wasser.
As usual on Perfume Shrine, we dissect things to get to the bottom of it.
Blacks/Negroes have worked in plantations for many years as slaves, as recently as the previous century. This is deeply shameful, there is no other way around it. But certainly not to black people! Rather the ones who owned them and perpetuated this practice at a time in history when such a practice was not necessitated by ANY means (It's an agreed fact that slavery in antiquity falls under completely different parameters and not within our scope here). There even exist wonderful French patisserie creations that reference negroes, certainly through no desire to offend them.
But the second part does exist, alas. Weirdly too, because Jean Paul is well-known for his good rapport and friendship with the inhabitants of the island of Mayotte, where Guerlain keeps ylang ylang plantations. Maybe his progressing age doesn't help too much in general?
For purposes of injecting a semi-relevant & controversial viewpoint on racial matters, France and the US, please read this blog post. Food for thought, and why not, comment!