Cigars are showing up in the most unlikely places. In an ad for Ebel watches, film director Dennis Hopper grasps a lit cigar. Donna Karan's Fall/Winter advertising campaign displays models with cigars in their mouths. Bijan's current media campaign uses female models clenching cigars between their teeth.
But it's not just advertising. Magazines and television are getting into the act too. Candice Bergen, aka Murphy Brown, holds one in her hand on the cover of Esquire. A cigar pokes out of Linda Carter's big smile in a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover of First for Women, David Letterman on TV Guide's cover and Michael Douglas in GQ in the United Kingdom have been photographed gripping their favorite smokes. On television, in the season premiere of Star Trek, The Next Generation, Samuel Clemens appears from the far distant past and demands to have a cigar.
What common denominator links these advertisements, magazines and shows? From where is this new acceptance of cigars coming? Why are cigars being exploited so prominently and with such greater frequency than in the past? Isn't this the 1990s, when anything as pleasurable and enjoyable as a fine cigar is supposedly off limits?
Isn't this the era when serious, full-bore enjoyment is usually linked with, at best, a weak character and, at worst, a disregard for humanity? You'd think that no one, especially advertisers and public figures, would want his client's product or images associated with such a controversial symbol as a cigar.
George Fertitta, the President of Margeotes, Fertitta and Weiss in New York, an agency for clients such as Rémy Martin Cognac and Godiva chocolates, says cigars in advertising are definitely "provocative." But, he adds, "A cigar completes a picture. It's like a period in a sentence. It gives you a different point of view about someone holding a cigar ... that he walks to the beat of a different drum" and is not "having any difficulty being different." As for a client's concern about controversy, Fertitta argues that cigars are viewed differently than cigarettes because cigars confer "power, authority and self-confidence .... A lot of powerful, important people smoke cigars."
At Calet, Hirsch & Ferrell (Stolichnaya Vodka, Toshiba), Bob Schrivjer, a senior vice-president, agrees that cigars are very different from cigarettes and have only "incidentally been viewed as smoke producers. There is a cultural association that overrides whatever concern there is about smoking. They're just different. They have always been a statement of affluence, masculinity and assertiveness."
The fashion world has taken that message to heart. Kent Wallace-Meggs of Bijan in Los Angeles says Bijan himself was just having fun during a photo shoot that ended up as a national advertising campaign. In it, several female models were photographed with lit cigars clenched between their teeth. "We were just playing around," says Wallace-Meggs. "But it's a hot and unique shot."
A shot that's not so unique anymore. Peter Arnell at Arnell & Bickford developed a Fall/Winter advertising campaign for Donna Karan in which male models hold cigars. There's an unmistakable air of confidence in the photographs, an unabashed appreciation of the cigar. As Donna Karan's first foray into men's clothing, the campaign also makes a strong statement that the line, by a female designer, really was for men who appreciated the finer things.
The simple truth is that cigars are not always in the line of fire and, more and more often, are receiving safe haven. It's like bungee jumping or drinking Champagne at breakfast. What might normally be frowned upon as too dangerous or too decadent is okay from time to time because it boosts the spirit. A cigar smoker may have to partake in private or out in a deserted field or may still have to deal with brazen antismoking zealots who wave hands in front of their faces and demand the cigar be stubbed out immediately, but cigar lovers won't always be denied. Some people actually envy a cigar smoker's obvious enjoyment.
"Cigars, in their way, are untouchable. They're always sort of good," says Terry McDonell, Editor-in-Chief of Esquire magazine, who chose to put Bergen on his cover recently holding a cigar. "Cigars have a celebratory note, an on-top-of-the-world dimension... one of those things that is just a little more fun."
Art Cooper, the Editor-in-Chief of GQ, says he's been using cigars for years as props in shoots, partly as a way to keep models' hands busy, but also as a way to add a little whimsy to a shoot, just as it did on the Esquire cover. But he expresses a slightly ironic note about his best-selling cover of 1992, the January shot of a relaxed President John F. Kennedy holding a cigar. "Who knows, maybe the wish for a cigar made 430,000 [newsstand sales] guys go out and buy the magazine."
Roger Kimball, a social commentator and Managing Editor of The New Criterion, a conservative arts and culture journal, traces the cigar-as-prop phenomenon to more straightforward desires. "It's about freedom and pleasure. All those things that we are supposed to look down upon these days," he says. Kimball also argues that cigar smoking isn't about a backlash against feminism, but rather an in-the-face assault on political correctness. "There's this idea around that if it's pleasurable, it must be bad. But there is a reaction against that kind of thinking. Political correctness is a diminishing force."
Whatever the reasons, cigars are staging a comeback in the real world. The bottom line is simple: Smoking a cigar says something positive about a person--man or woman. For an advertiser or an editor or a writer, someone holding a cigar is immediately identified as someone who is determined to stand up for his or her rights. And the message is unequivocal: It's all about the privilege of partaking in pleasurable activities. Unless someone is totally immune to the flood of warnings and nasty diatribes from the naysayers out there, you must adopt an aggressive willingness to enjoy the Good Life, and it's even more important if you want to indulge the pleasures of a fine smoke. The media kings like that self-assured profile and the image it portrays.
Light up. The media gurus are telling you it's okay. This is the Decade of the Cigar.