Ladies and Cigars
Aficionadas: Women and Their Cigars
Gwen Martin, Evan J. Elkin
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
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After her South American adventure, it was a boyfriend who showed Edmark the etiquette of selecting, cutting and smoking a cigar. "I found it endearing that he wanted to show me how to go about it," she says. So endearing, in fact, that the two are now married. "We smoked Romeo y Julietas to celebrate the night he proposed. I saved the butts and bands and am having them framed," she says with a laugh. In a reversal of the Gigi dynamic, husband Stephen Polley, chairman, president and CEO of the Dallas-based Interphase Corporation, selects and prepares Edmark's cigars for her. Edmark doesn't like "little ones"--she tends to go for Churchills. "If you're going to smoke a cigar, don't be scared of big ones," she advises women who want to experiment. "They're actually milder."
Women aren't just smoking cigars in record numbers; they have also made successful careers in nearly every facet of today's cigar marketplace. Helena Stigeler develops and markets elegant and innovative cigar-smoking accessories. Cigar manufacturers such as Emmanuelle Marty, cofounder, co-owner and president of Sublimado Cigar Corp. in Miami, have dispensed with the notion that women cannot thrive at the highest echelons of the international cigar industry. For these women, enjoying cigars is an integral part of their work.
"Cigars are my livelihood, but I also find them relaxing and elegant," says Marty. "Smoking is like having a conversation with myself. I love to play with the smoke and savor the aroma of quality tobacco. For me, it's an event. And I think women can look very elegant with a cigar." She prefers her own Cognac-mellowed Sublimados, but also smokes Cuban Montecristos and Bolivars.
Stigeler, who smokes Avo Belicosos, concurs. In fact, she thinks cigar smoking is about complementarity between the sexes. "Women becoming cigar smokers and going to events in recent years has allowed men to feel more comfortable with their own elegance."
Perhaps no one has met with greater success in blending business with pleasure than Silvius-Gits. She markets her own line of cigars (the Dominican-manufactured Diana Silvius). She also flexes her political muscle through her involvement with national tobacco organizations (she recently joined Cigar Aficionado's Lafayette Park smokers rally before the Big Smoke in Washington, D.C.), and speaks with boundless enthusiasm and knowledge about smoking cigars. Silvius-Gits, whose motto is: "If it doesn't smoke, I don't want to have anything to do with it," describes the Davidoff Double "R" in the reverential language Keats used to describe his Grecian urn. About her encyclopedic cigar knowledge, she says simply that "women who work in the industry really know their stuff."
Alicia Wilson is living proof of Silvius-Gits' theory. She is the store manager at Alfred Dunhill of London's Manhattan branch, where she runs cigar-education seminars. Wilson trains corporate executives and other interested individuals (men and women) in the art and science of cigar smoking, and consults with restaurants in creating cigar menus to complement their cuisine. "I don't think men have a problem taking advice from me about cigars," she says.
Cigars are often a kind of social glue within families, too. There's no denying that passing on the love of a cigar establishes bonds between the generations. Stigeler says, "My associations and memories of my father with a cigar are wonderful. Because whenever he had a cigar in hand, it meant he would feel relaxed and have time to talk with me. This is always at the back of my mind when I smoke a cigar." Apparently, Stigeler has passed on those happy associations; her daughter, Veronica, 23, is also an avid cigar smoker.
When Diane Collatos' father took her at 16 to see Gigi, he may well have had the training and initiation of his daughter into womanhood in mind. Things turned out quite differently: Setting out to create a cigar handler, he unwittingly created not just a cigar smoker, but a connoisseur. "After we saw the film he would say to me, 'Honey, could you 'Gigi' me a cigar?' I would go into his humidor, pick a cigar and light it for him. I used to get a few puffs. That and the aroma of the humidor were the payoffs for me."
Collatos, a Boston native who is now a ceramic artist (she recently designed an ashtray for a friend's cigar store), smokes two to three cigars per day and sports an elegant gold cigar cutter--inherited from her grandfather--around her neck. While we may think of cigar smoking as something passed on from fathers to sons, Stigeler, Collatos and many other women prove that the rite is frequently passed from father or grandfather to daughter.
Wilson reports that she smoked her first cigar at age four, while sitting on her grandfather's lap at a bullfight in Seville. She says that her grandfather knew what he was doing when he offered her puffs of his cigar as a child. "He believed that cigars, and red wine for that matter, were not age or gender specific, and set out to pass his love of cigars to his grandchildren, male and female."
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