Cigar Aficionado

Elie Bleu Straw Marquetry Humidor

If you are looking at the adjacent photograph and thinking either that you're hallucinating or that Elie Bleu has started making irregularly shaped humidors for the consternation of those who like to stack boxes, you are wrong on both counts. The Elie Blue Psychédelique Straw Marquetry humidor comes in a standard cube shape, but is decorated with an age-old technique of working in threshed grain that gives it a wavering optical effect that seems to have been conceived by a consortium that includes M.C. Escher and Timothy Leary.

In the creation of the humidor, artisans in Elie Bleu's Paris workshop resurrected a technique that had fallen almost completely out of practice. Purportedly introduced by travelers returning from the Far East, straw marquetry came to England in the seventeenth century and, in the next century, to France, where it found a home in the court of Louis XV. The king's tradesmen used the technique to make and decorate furniture, among other things. Then it nearly disappeared before being briefly resurrected in the Art Deco work of André Groult and Jean-Michel Frank, famous French cabinetmakers of the 1930s.

Only five artisans in the world today count straw marquetry as a specialty. Agnès Paul-Depasse is the only one of that five to apply the skill to the production of humidor veneers. The veneers she fastens to Elie Bleu's cedar-lined humidor frames have a three-dimensional, geometric appearance, but they are actually level and smooth. To achieve this end, it takes know-how, a delicate hand and, perhaps above all, patience. First wheat, barley or oat straw is purchased in untreated bundles. Once the best pieces are selected, they are opened and flattened until they form small, regular, clean ribbons, about 30 centimeters long and eight millimeters wide. The ribbons then are applied individually to the box, an exacting manual process. When it's done, the natural colors of the straw have an almost iridescent quality.

The Elie Bleu Straw Marquetry humidors hold 75 or 110 cigars, and are available in various color combinations. A limited number of the humidors (prices start at $3,000) will be produced this year.

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