Partner of legendary French parfumier accused of leaving him in filth and stealing his money

·4-min read
Jean Paul Guerlain - Bertrand Rindoff Petroff /French Select
Jean Paul Guerlain - Bertrand Rindoff Petroff /French Select

He is the last member of one of the world’s most prestigious perfume dynasties whose French fragrances have been worn by the world’s great and good, including Queen Victoria.

Jean-Paul Guerlain, 84, who at one point claimed to be able to identify 3,000 different fragrances, is considered one of the greatest perfume “noses” of the 20th century, concocting famous scents including Samsara, Nahema and Jardins de Bagatelle.

He was the last relative to run the house launched in Paris by his forebear Pierre François Pascal, a doctor and chemist 1828.

But today, the former “nez” is at the heart of a bitter court battle between his only son and his younger Franco-Danish companion.

This week, Christina Kragh Michelsen, 63, was stood trial for “abandoning a person unable to protect himself”, with prosecutors at the Versailles court calling for an 18-month suspended sentence, a ban on her living or coming near Mr Guerlain and compensation to plaintiffs.

Mr Guerlain’s son Stéphane has accused her of seeking to exploit his decrepit state - he suffers from a form of Alzheimer’s - to strong-arm him into marriage for his name and fortune. Ms Michelson, who denies wrongdoing, argues the son has never got over the fact that his father had moved to another woman.

Jean-Paul Guerlain at his laboratory in 2001 - Reuters
Jean-Paul Guerlain at his laboratory in 2001 - Reuters

The pair met in 2005 over their shared love of horses. After asking whether she could move hers into his vast domain dubbed “The Valley” outside Paris, he agreed and she moved into a house on the property.

In 2010, Mr Guerlain fell from perfume icon into national disgrace after being convicted of racism and fined €6,000 for implying that “Negroes” were lazy. LVMH, the luxury giant that bought the brand from the Guerlain family in 1994, cut off all links with him after the row.

“He was alone, in trouble, and Christina Kragh took advantage to stick her foot in the door,” said Stéphane Guerlain’s lawyer Pascal Koerfer.

He said his client’s suspicions over her intentions were raised in 2012 when she turned up incognito to a well-known art dealer and offered to sell him a Delacroix painting. The dealer recognised the work as belonging to Mr Guerlain and tipped off the son, an intellectual property lawyer.

The following year, he became his father’s legal guardian.

Last year, the son successfully managed to block the marriage of Ms Michelson to his father after a court ruled that she had sought to pressure him into it.

Mr Guerlain repeatedly told the court “I want to get married” in parrot fashion, even when asked how old he was. But the son produced a letter signed by his father saying he did not want to and the marriage was blocked.

The house of world-renowned perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain near Montfort-l'Amaury, west of Paris - JACQUES BRINON/AP
The house of world-renowned perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain near Montfort-l'Amaury, west of Paris - JACQUES BRINON/AP

The case came to court again this week after an employee filed a legal complaint against Ms Michelin for “harassment”, saying that she had sought to drive her from the domain, criticising her cooking and even dropping a dead snake on the floor when she knew she had a phobia for serpents.

Stéphane Guerlain’s lawyer said that former employees, including the cook and butler, were all hounded out, leaving Ms Michelin alone with his father on the property where she organised glitzy soirées without inviting him.

Prosecutor Philippe Toccanier denounced what he called Ms Michelsen’s “totally immoral way of acting”, saying that when he went to visit the ex-nose, he found him in a pitiful state “incapable of expressing himself or answering the slightest question”.

He told the court the accused had deprived the perfume heir of “care, food and basic hygiene” despite living next door in the domain.

“As Ms Michelson had failed in her marriage project, she did succeed in sidelining very devoted people to him,” the prosecutor told the court. “It is borderline physical mistreatment.”

Ms Michelen’s lawyer Frédéric Bélot contended that she was at his “beck and call”.

“She never leaves his side to the point that she didn’t even go to see her own mother for the past ten years before she died.”

He said staff were all recruited by Stéphane Guerlain to spy on his client and “testify against her”.

“The real abandonment comes from the guardian (Stéphane Guerlain), who allowed his father to live in totally unacceptable conditions. He did nothing to keep the place clean. He cut off heating and hot water everywhere except in his bedroom…There is even a tree growing in one of the outhouses,” he argued.

“Mr Guerlain is a monument of French heritage. If the French knew in what conditions he is ending his life, it would be an absolute scandal,” he added.

A verdict is due on October 18.

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