The family drama gripping France's oldest perfume house

The family drama gripping France's oldest perfume house

Smells like family drama! Guerlain perfume heir, 61, is locked in a battle with girlfriend, 63, of his Alzheimer’s-stricken father, 81, who accuses him of cutting off the heating and leaving them to survive on 120 euros a week

  • Jean-Paul Guerlain, 81, of the perfume house is at the centre of family drama 
  • His partner Christina Kragh, 63, has accused his son of violence and harassment
  • Jean-Paul’s son Stéphane Guerlain, 61, categorically rejected all allegations  
  • Stéphane is his father’s legal guardian and previously stopped the pair marrying

There’s a sour-smelling cloud of discord hanging over the Guerlain family, founders of France’s oldest perfume house, as a years-long dispute involving claims of neglect, harassment and a vast family fortune, returns to court.

At the centre of the drama is patriarch Jean-Paul Guerlain, 81, a celebrated perfumer and one of the great ‘noses’ of the 20th century who is responsible for bestselling scents including Samsara, Nahema and Jardins de Bagatelle.

In 1994, Mr Guerlain oversaw the sale of the brand to French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH in 1994, leaving the family with an estimated 2 billion euro fortune.

The perfumier, who has a form of Alzheimer’s remained involved in the company until 2010, when LVMH cut all ties after he used the N-word on national television.    

The row is between Mr Guerlain’s 63-year-old companion and his only son Stéphane, 61, an intellectual property lawyer who has been his father’s legal guardian since 2013. 

Stéphane opposes Mr Guerlain’s relationship with Danish-born Christina Kragh, an elegant blonde equestrian 18 years his junior who has lived on the sprawling 133-acre Guerlain estate south of Paris since 2005.

Centre of the drama: Jean-Paul Guerlain, 81, a celebrated perfumer and one of the great ‘noses’ of the 20th century who is responsible for bestselling scents including Samsara, Nahema and Jardins de Bagatelle. Pictured, with his girlfriend Christina de Kragh, 63

Father and son feud: The row is between Mr Guerlain and his only son Stéphane, 61, a intellectual property lawyer who has been his father’s legal guardian since 2018. Pictured, Jean-Paul (left) and Stéphane, with Jean-Paul’s niece Patricia, in 2002

Family estate: Stéphane opposes Mr Guerlain’s relationship with Danish-born Christina Kragh, 63, an elegant blonde equestrian who has lived with Guerlain senior on his sprawling 133-acre estate south of Paris since 2005. Pictured, the estate, known as The Valley

In turn, Ms Kragh has taken legal action against Stéphane, accusing him of a string of charges including moral harassment, willful violence and subjecting a vulnerable person to ‘housing conditions incompatible with human dignity’, Christopher Mason reported for AirMail. 

The charges were filed on behalf of Ms Kragh by her lawyer, Frédéric Bélot. 

Stéphane was summoned to appear before the correctional court of Versailles yesterday. The outcome of the hearing is not known. 

Speaking to AirMail, Stéphane’s lawyer, Pascal Koerfer, categorically rejected all allegations made by Ms Kragh and said his client’s father ‘was placed under Stéphane’s guardianship in consideration to the risks of manipulation and abuse to which he could have been subjected by Kragh’s entourage’.  

‘”Kristina [sic] Kragh managed to impose herself in Mr. Jean-Paul Guerlain’s house,” Koerfer said, “and for the past nine years, has [engaged in] multiple procedures leading to 12 decisions of justice, that rejected all her claims. 

‘”Mrs Kragh thinks she can justify the unjustifiable, by multiplying outrageous and shocking penal procedures; with systematic recourse to media”.’ 

The Guerlain fragrance house was founded in 1828 by Jean-Paul Guerlain’s great-great grandfather, Pierre-François. Jean-Paul took over from his grandfather, Jacques, aged 22. 

Golden nose: Guerlain fragrance house was founded in 1828 by Jean-Paul’s great-great grandfather, Pierre-François. Jean-Paul (pictured) took over from his grandfather aged 22

Common interests: The perfumer, who is thought to have been married twice before, including to Stéphane’s mother, met Ms Kragh in the early 2000s and they bonded over their shared love of horses. Pictured, Jean-Paul and Ms Kragh at a Christian Dior Show in 2004

In 2012 he was disgraced when he was convicted of making racist insults on national television and fined 6,000 euros (£5,000).

Guerlain made the comments in a 2010 interview on France-2 television describing the creation of one of the company’s most famous perfumes.

Smells like success! The history of Guerlain, France’s oldest parfumerie 

Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain set up shop at 42 Rue de Rivoli in 1828. Back then, perfume was distinctly racy; nice girls stuck to barely there floral waters.

But Pierre-François Pascal got his first big break with a commission from the novelist Balzac, and the pages of Le Journal des Elégances were scented with another Guerlain creation.

In just a few years the Guerlain boutique was throbbing with crowned heads – the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria, Napoleon’s wife Empress Eugénie and the Tsar of Russia.

But it was Empress Eugénie who put Guerlain on the map: he dedicated his Eau de Cologne Impériale to her – a fresh, citrussy triumph, decanted into a curvy bottle and decorated with golden bees.

Aimé Guerlain took his father’s place at the perfume organ in 1864, by which time nice girls were definitely dabbing on perfume. His revolutionary creation was Jicky – named after a lost sweetheart – in 1889. 

Next to inherit the Guerlain ‘nose’ was Jacques Guerlain, whose fragrant landmarks include Après L’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, and fleetingly fashionable, exotically named perfumes such as Liu, Djedi, Vega, and Kadine.

Several of Jacques Guerlain’s other masterpieces are also still available today: Après l’Ondée, Vol de Nuit and luminous rose-and-jasmine Ode, co-created in 1955 with his grandson and heir, the 18-year-old Jean-Paul Guerlain, who produced perfume blockbusters such as Samsara (created for his wife – in time-honoured Guerlain tradition), Jardins de Bagatelle and Nahéma.

Men, meanwhile, have Jean-Paul to thank for Vetiver, Habit Rouge and Guerlain Héritage.

Jean-Paul took over from his grandfather, Jacques, aged 22.

In 1994 he sold the business to LVMH. 

He said: ‘I worked like a [N-word]. I don’t know if [N-words] have always worked like that, but anyway.’

LVMH immediately cut all ties with Jean-Paul, who up until that point had remained a consultant ‘nose’ at the brand. 

The perfumer, who is thought to have been married twice before, including to Stéphane’s mother, met Ms Kragh in the early 2000s and they bonded over their shared love of horses. 

His 133-acre estate, known as The Valley, boasts stables, as well as an orangery and apartments previously rented to tenants.   

In the early years of their relationship, they were often seen together in Parisian society events, with Ms Kragh, almost 20 years his junior, cutting a chic figure on the businessman’s arm. 

She moved into a house at The Valley in 2005, where she remains today. 

Stéphane has been against his father’s romantic relationship for years. 

In a previous court appearance, Stéphane’s lawyer explained his client’s suspicions over Ms Kragh’s real intentions were first piqued in 2012 when Ms Kragh had approached an art dealer and offered to sell him a Delacroix painting owned by Mr Guerlain. 

The dealer recognised the painting and informed the owner’s son. 

The following year, Stéphane became his father’s legal guardian. He was reportedly given full control of his father’s finances in 2018. 

Ms Kragh’s lawyer dismisses Stéphane’s version of events, claiming Jean-Paul had asked her to take it to have it valued for insurance purposes and she had never tried to sell it.  

In 2020, Stéphane successfully opposed the couple’s move to marry, claiming his father was unable to make such a decision due to his senile dementia.

Jean-Paul repeatedly told the court ‘I want to get married’, even when asked unrelated questions, like his age. 

Stéphane produced a letter signed by his father saying he did not want to wed, the Daily Telegraph reported.   

Ms Kragh hit back at the claim her beau is not in a position to make major life decisions, telling AirMail: ‘Jean-Paul is not gaga at all.’

Last year, the family was back in court when Stéphane filed charges against Ms Kragh, claiming she had allowed his father to fall into a pitiful state, ‘incapable of expressing himself or answering the slightest question’.

Prosecutor Philippe Toccanier told the court Ms Kragh had deprived the perfume heir of ‘care, food and basic hygiene’ despite living next door in the domain.

‘As Ms [Kragh] 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.’

Mr Bélot, representing Ms Kragh, argued his client was at Mr Guerlain’s ‘beck and call’ and ‘never leaves his side’, even choosing to stay with her partner rather than travel to see her own mother in the 10 years before her death.   

Under fire: Ms Kragh has taken legal action against Stéphane, accusing him of a string of charges including moral harassment, willful violence and subjecting a vulnerable person to ‘housing conditions incompatible with human dignity’. Pictured, Stéphane with his cousin

He argued: ‘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.

‘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.’

All of the charges against Ms Kragh were dropped.

The accusations against Stéphane are reportedly reiterated in the most recent legal filings. 

Accusations: Ms Kragh claims Stéphane has dismissed Mr Guerlain’s staff, refuses to pay for maintenance on The Valley and only gives the couple a weekly allowance of some 120 euros. Pictured, Ms Kragh with Jean-Paul Guerlain at the Christian Dior show in 2004

Ms Kragh claims Stéphane has dismissed Mr Guerlain’s staff, refuses to pay for maintenance on The Valley and only gives the couple a weekly allowance of some 120 euros. 

In addition, the legal filing claims Stéphane cut off the heat and hot water at the historic property for a three-week period, blocked the internet access and international calls and confiscated his father’s passport. 

There are also claims of harassment, physical violence and a death threat. 

Ms Kragh reportedly hopes the criminal complaints filed by her lawyer will be enough to lead to lessening Stéphane’s control over their lives.  

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