French perfume designer Jean-Paul Guerlain’s use of the “n-word” during a recent interview on French state TV sparked an outcry from anti-racist groups, capped by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s announcement of plans to travel to Paris to speak to the groups in November.
“The fact that Jean-Paul Guerlain felt comfortable enough to use the ‘n-word’ in public, coupled with the recent United Nations report showing that racism is on the rise in France, illustrates the depth of racism not only in France but throughout Europe and around the world,” Sharpton said in a statement Oct. 23. “We will be joining with the fair-minded people across the Atlantic Ocean to further internationalize the struggle for fairness and respect. We cannot tolerate such brazen affronts to our basic humanity.”
Guerlain’s comments came during an interview Oct.15 after he was asked about the creation of his new perfume Samsara.
“I started working like a [“n-word”],” he said. “I don’t know if [“n-word”] really worked that hard.”
Nearly 100 protestors assembled outside the Guerlain store following the incident, calling for a global boycott of the perfume company and its owner, luxury goods dealer Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessey (LVMH), according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.
The French designer later apologized, saying in an e-mailed statement, “My words do not reflect in any way my profound thoughts but are due to an inopportune misspeaking which I vividly regret.”
Sharpton said that, despite the use of the word, the sentiment behind Guerlain’s comments were still offensive.
“Even if the ‘n-word’ were not used, it still would have been an insult,” Sharpton said in a statement. “To question whether Blacks work hard, whether in France or anywhere else in the world is beyond debate. No group has a monopoly on brains or hard work.”
Sharpton accepted an invitation from Patrick Lozes, president of the Paris-based Representative Council of Black Associations in France, to speak to activist groups after the U.S. elections on Nov. 2.
In a letter to Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, Sharpton requested a meeting to discuss the incident and the company’s subsequent steps to maintain its corporate culture. LVMH has since released a statement condemning “all forms of racism,” according to The Guardian.
A world leader in luxury goods, LVMH is comprised of over 60 well-known brands in five different sectors including wine and spirits, fashion and leather goods, perfumes and cosmetics, watches and jewelry and selective retailing.