Bond No. 9: A Legacy of Bad Behavior

Bond No. 9’s Laurice Rahme has responded. See her letter at the end of the post.

Just a couple months after the fragrance brand Bond No. 9 won me over again, I hear that the owner, Laurice Rahme, is being taken to court by a couple of her former employees in a sordid racial discrimination suit. Great.

Bond lost me in the first place because of bad service. Comically bad, the sort you see in movies where the workaday hero is mistreated by snooty elitists at ritzy department stores. That sort of old fashioned retail service has mostly disappeared (you can never tell if the schmuck in the flip-flops and cargo shorts is a CEO or not); even the Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue has kindly staff.

My wife and I gave Bond another chance when we stopped into the Meatpacking District shop in June and were delighted by how friendly and helpful one of the salesmen there was.

And then this lawsuit. According to the plaintiffs, Veronica Robledo and Karin Widmann, Bond No. 9 owner Laurice Rahme has some nasty policies. When black people came into the flagship store, someone would say, “We need the light bulbs changed” to alert security. Darker skinned employees were discouraged from serving white customers. When the two plaintiffs complained about the racism, they were fired and accused of stealing $25,000 in perfume.

Rahme claims she “loves” black customers, adding that she had once dated a black man. However, she was eager to point out that in each case of theft at her stores, “they were all African-American robbers.”

I was surprised by how many fragrance bloggers were not surprised to hear about Ms. Rahme’s alleged racism. Apparently she has a reputation for being a jerk (The New York Times noted in 2006 that “Laurice Rahme has a temperament too volatile to be contained in a bottle,” adding that “Though few would go on the record, retailers and others who have worked with her portray her as something of an industry bête noire, combative and obstinate.”). Luxury blogger Nathan Branch wrote, “My one and only thought in response to the Bond No. 9 lawsuit is that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving perfume company. What goes around, comes around.” He linked to a series of posts around the fragrance blogging community that deal with odd PR practices, Bond going after the fragrance decanters Perfumed Court via Twitter, stealing ideas from Creed (she was once their distributor; there was a legal battle), and threatening smaller perfumers with legal action over seemingly unpatentable perfume names. Many bloggers have pointed out that the king of fragrance reviews, Luca Turin, tends not to favor the brand’s scents.

The stories abound. The more you look for nastiness, the more you will find. In fact, it’s hard to find bloggers who’ve had positive experiences with Bond (though many of us like a couple of the fragrances themselves, like Chinatown and New Haarlem). Even my friend Barney at Fragrant Moments has had some awkward dealings with them.

Bond No. 9 is like that friend who always seems to get into fights at bars or on the street. Is Laurice Rahme racist? With her legacy of law suits and legal threats, temper tantrums, attacking smaller competitors, and fighting with retailers, maybe it doesn’t matter; it looks like she hates everyone.

UPDATE: APRIL 2014 — I received the following e-mail from Laurice Rahme:

I write concerning your blog of Cocktails & Cologne, in which you reported that two of my former employees at Bond. No. 9, the fragrance company I founded in 2003, filed a race discrimination claim against me and my company. For your information, these same two employees also filed a second lawsuit against me and my company for alleged non-payment of wages.

I note that you did not contact me or my staff to seek comment concerning these false, malicious and scurrilous claims, but I wish to advise you that both of these former employees (who, like all my staff, I trusted and respected) have, without any monetary payment whatsoever from or on behalf of me or my company (1) voluntarily withdrawn both lawsuits against me and my company; and (2) signed a written retraction in which they withdrew all their allegations and claims in the August 2012 complaint referenced in your article.

As you are no doubt aware, reputation-damaging lawsuits such as these are frequently and quickly settled out of court for some monetary payment to avoid continuing negative publicity. In this case, however, the claims against me and my company were so blatantly false, insulting and personally and professionally damaging, that I never considered any option but to defend against these allegations.

That said, the ensuing print and web publicity sparked by your blog post and “news” of these false complaints of race discrimination had terrible consequences. Not only was my personal and business reputation and that of Bond No. 9 wrongly questioned, causing my company (which after 10 years of operation in remains entirely independent and private – a rarity in the beauty industry) to lose business, but the window of our Bond Street boutique was smashed, and I and my staff feared for our safety, despite my hiring a full-time security guard at the entrance to this boutique.

With all of the above in mind, I respectfully request that you publish an update to demonstrate that good businesses and businesspeople can stand tall above false allegations – even those as personally and professionally damaging as being wrongly labeled a “racist.” The voluntary withdrawal by my ex-employees’ of their two lawsuits, and their own written retractions of the allegations referenced in your article, surely should be considered more newsworthy than the false claims raised in the lawsuits themselves, claims which you helped circulate.

I take enormous pride in my multi-national, multi-ethnic staff, and our multitudes of customers from all over New York, the United States, and the world. Indeed, my New York-oriented fragrance company (whose scents are named for areas of the city as diverse as Coney Island, Harlem, the Bowery, and Park Avenue) is constantly inspired by the melting pot that is our great city. Hence my determination to counter and completely dispel all false claims of race discrimination and false allegations that we did not pay earned compensation, and my resulting feeling of vindication for my company, my many loyal employees and me personally.

My attorneys and I are available if you want to discuss this matter further. Thank you for your consideration.
Kind regards,
Laurice Rahme
President & Founder, Bond No. 9

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4 Responses to Bond No. 9: A Legacy of Bad Behavior

  1. Adeel Usman says:

    This is a great piece, thank you for sharing
    I can’t help but laugh at the irony . such an construed and ignorant perception leads the production of some the greatest colognes i have come across. But i guess it make sense in the grand scheme of things.. the strongest smells often requires a heavy mask, and who would be the best presenter than someone with the foulest stench.

    • Thanks for the comment, Adeel. This is a topic I’ve pondered for years: what do you do with something beautiful that’s made by someone despicable? I don’t know the answer to that. It isn’t always easy to separate the work from its creator. My usual example is the art of Edgar Degas, whose work is enjoyed by millions, most of whom are oblivious to his anti-Semitism. My wife and I won’t be buying anything from Bond anymore. There are plenty of exceptional fragrance brands out there that are run by friendly people (many who’ve been attacked by Ms. Rahme).

  2. Andy says:

    I hadn’t checked before this, but figured there might be some background on your blog, Harry. I need to read you more often. 🙂

    Our experiences seem to have run different ends of the spectrum – both my wife and I have been treated well by the staff at their boutiques (we’re a racially mixed couple), so your mileage may vary. As the Times article alluded, I’ll submit that anyone in a competitive business who wants to be successful is going to create their share of enemies or people who want to bring them down a peg or two.. I’m sure that GM isn’t very happy that Toyota is selling more cars in the US.

    • Hi Andy– Yep, this is why I’ve been so fired up about Bond. You’re right, successful people always have haters, and competition breeds resentment. However, we never hear about what jerks the Hermes people are, or that l’Artisan is attacking niche perfumers on Twitter, or that the Frederic Malle stores treat some (or many) customers poorly. Bond seems to be in a different league. If you’ve had more good experiences with them than bad, count yourself lucky. Interestingly, none of the bad stuff about Bond that I’ve heard comes from their competitors. Just their (former) customers and bloggers.

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