Yves Saint Laurent Cigarettes Light a Spark of Controversy

Times Staff Writer

In a label-conscious world, where the fashion designer’s stamp has crept onto place mats and pillow cases, automobiles and edibles, as well as nearly every article of clothing imaginable, are we ready for the first designer cigarette?

This week, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. announced that renowned Paris designer Yves Saint Laurent will put his initials on a brand called Ritz.

Ads for Ritz, geared to fashion-conscious female smokers and photographed by fashion photographer Helmut Newton, will boast the message: “The first luxury-class cigarette created by Yves Saint Laurent.”

The 100-millimeter, low-tar cigarettes, made of a blend of domestic and imported tobaccos, will look like any ordinary variety save for a thin band of color on the filter--aqua on the menthol version, deep red on the non-menthol--and, above it, the YSL monogram printed in copper. The package of 20 will be sold in a flip-top box with a black top and red or aqua bottom with the YSL logo embossed in gold.


Betsy Annese, manager of product and corporate communications for R. J. Reynolds, says that Saint Laurent himself smokes a French brand and didn’t get involved with the choice of tobacco. “There’s a wide difference between a domestic cigarette and a European brand,” she said, adding that the designer did participate in the cigarette and package design as well as in the advertising campaign.

Ritz will be test-marketed in four locations beginning in March. In Atlanta and the state of Washington, Ritz will be sold at prices on a par with other 100-millimeter cigarettes. In Memphis, Tenn., and Oklahoma City, it will carry a premium price.

In late February, advertisements will begin to appear in test-market locations.

Newton, who photographed the ads in Paris and Monte Carlo, describes them as having “a lot of chic.” They feature either a woman or a couple in a variety of locations, such as on a yacht, next to a car or in a hotel. Newton says that several different models were used, all of them of indeterminate age. “They are not babies--they are definitely women,” he said. They are also dressed in clothes by Saint Laurent and are shown smoking.

Customers at the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique at I. Magnin, Beverly Hills, and shoppers along Rodeo Drive were asked for their reactions to the world’s first designer cigarette. Here are their responses.

June Lee, Beverly Hills:

“My feeling is that nobody should come out with a new cigarette, period. I think it’s in bad taste for Saint Laurent, particularly for such a man of taste.”

Raquel Carreras, Westwood:


“Brooke Shields says that smoking isn’t chic. But I think if a woman is going to smoke, why not smoke something elegant? A woman shouldn’t smoke a Marlborough. When I used to smoke, I smoked cigarettes in different colors to match my outfits. I would smoke Saint Laurent cigarettes--definitely.”

Charlotte Rosenberg, Beverly Hills:

“With all of the publicity about smoking, I don’t think it’s a good idea. He can put his name on so many wonderful things, why cigarettes?”

Rita Ryan, San Francisco:


“It’s perfectly all right with me. I don’t think less of him for coming out with a cigarette. He’s not encouraging smoking. People will smoke no matter whose name is on the cigarette. It’s just like drinking; if you want it badly enough, you’ll drink anything.”

Dorothy Karlstein, Malibu:

“I don’t think it’s nice to promote something that’s bad for people’s health, especially now that we know smoking is injurious to other people’s health. I resent it.”

Linda Davis, Perth, Australia:


“I think it’s wonderful, the fact that now Saint Laurent has another asset to his collection. Why not? He has all the other accessories. I love him. I think he’s great.”

Gregg Tripoli, Beverly Hills:

“I think it’s a strange idea, but I think they’d be fun to have at parties. Would it encourage smoking? I don’t think people would start smoking just because there are Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes.”

Albert Bendavid, Paris:


“Alain Delon has a perfume, so why not Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes? He gives his name only for money. It’s money, only money. I think that it will destroy his image as a designer. I’m a designer too. Saint Laurent is a designer first, but he’s all business today.”

Dee Yarbrough, Louisville, Ky.:

“It doesn’t impress me one way or the other. It’s just another gimmick. I wouldn’t smoke them because I have one brand, and that’s it.”

Sheila Gidlow, Encino:


“I would never buy them. It strikes me as an extremely affected thing to do. They’re totally out of place and don’t make any sense.”

Layla Jamshidvan, Westwood:

“To me, it’s a stupid idea. I smoke Marlborough. I might buy them to try it, but not for everyday use. I would rather go buy a perfume from Yves Saint Laurent and enjoy it much more than a cigarette.”

Tish Martinson, Paris:


“I don’t think it will hurt Yves Saint Laurent’s image one bit. I know him personally. People who want to smoke will always smoke, and people who don’t, won’t. Health should be decided by oneself.”

Eli Farber, Tel Aviv:

“If the taste is good and it smells good, why not? I drink about ten coffees a day, and after each one I have to smoke a cigarette. I’ll try anything that tastes good. I try all kinds of cigarettes.”

Nasrin Yazdani, San Diego:


“It’s a nice idea. I smoke Cartier cigarettes. They’re very light. I’d try Saint Laurent cigarettes if they’re good.”