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Ladies and Cigars

Aficionadas: Women and Their Cigars
Gwen Martin, Evan J. Elkin
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 1)

may fall back on familiar ways of relating with women in an attempt to "normalize" a disorienting experience: "Let me show you how," like a boss or father; "Let me tease you," like an older brother; "Let me sweep you off your feet and seduce you," like a macho man; and occasionally, "Let me do this with you," like a co-conspirator and a buddy. A woman's desire to smoke cigars is threatening to some men, comical to others. Some men find it titillating and sexy; for other men it can be an initiation rite, a way to break down gender barriers and welcome a woman into the group.

It can also be just plain shocking: Author and editor Colleen Mogil, 31, of Philadelphia's Main Line, once caused a car crash by smoking a cigar. "I was driving home, cigar in hand. I stopped at a light and noticed a man in the next lane staring at me with a look that said, 'Is that lady smoking a cigar, or am I seeing things?' As he tried to figure it out, he drove right into the car in front of him."

In the words of journalist/supermodel Veronica Webb, "It's fascinating to see a woman with a cigar because it's about staking a claim. And it often takes people off guard." Webb should know: The BBC-affiliated reporter, who smoked her first cigar with Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin Shanken, recently wrote an article on cigars for Esquire. "I was intimidated," she says. "Cigars are one of the great male secrets, and here I was writing about them."

Women, it seems, just aren't supposed to like cigars. We all know the cliché: An exasperated wife looks at her husband and demands, "Are you really going to smoke that vile thing?" Almost 100 years ago, Rudyard Kipling's short story, "The Betrothed" (1899), laid the foundation for today's stereotypes about cigars and the war of the sexes. In it, a fiancée tells her husband-to-be, "Darling, you must choose between me and your cigars."

Less than 50 years later, Hollywood portrayed a woman with a cigar as a provocative novelty in the film version of Colette's Gigi. The eponymous heroine (played by Leslie Caron) is transformed from ragamuffin to the "ideal woman." Significantly, her training includes learning how to select, unwrap and clip a good cigar--and then offer it to her escort. Of course, she wasn't supposed to smoke it. Gigi might appreciate cigars, even be an expert at handling them, but the pleasures of a smoke were still reserved for men. The message was clear: A woman who reveres cigars, knows how to appreciate them, but leaves them to the guys is a dream come true.

Since the days of Kipling, and onto the legacy of Gigi, cigars have belonged to men. Or so it would seem. Think about it: With a cigar, men celebrate the birth of a child, cement business deals and affirm friendships. They smoke them in clubs and secret societies. Cigars are an integral part of such cherished guy-rituals as the poker game and the stag party.

If the association between men and cigars in American culture is strong--indeed, as overpowering as Cohiba smoke in a windowless room--the link between women and cigars is, well, shrouded in smoke and mystery.

Pushing beyond the smoke screen of cliché, however, it's obvious that Edmark, Mogil and Webb are not alone. Increasingly, women are starting to smoke cigars, or are coming out of the closet as longtime cigar smokers. They're enjoying the aroma and taste and ritual--and why shouldn't they? It's not an anomaly or a coincidence--in fact, it turns out that the "masculinization" of cigars is a recent historical development, and that there is as much precedent for women loving cigars as hating them.

At trendy clubs such as Manhattan's Le Cigar at Tatou and Cigar Bar, at Big Smokes where traditionally the only women were miniskirted "spokesmodels," and at George Sand Society events, where women outnumber men three to one, cigar aficionadas are a visible new presence.

But are women smoking cigars in sufficient numbers to exert a significant influence on the marketplace? Diana Silvius-Gits sits on the board of directors of the Tobacconist's Association of America, is former president of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, Inc., and owns the Up Down Tobacco Shop in Chicago. "Women are our next big market," Silvius-Gits says. "We are seeing a tremendous surge of women smoking cigars. They're educated, they know what they want and I see more of them every day in my store." Helena Stigeler, president of Michel Perrenoud International, says that three times more women than men buy Perrenoud's pyramid-shaped humidors.

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