The typical leaders of the cigar world are charismatic and ubiquitous. But your management of Elie Bleu has been rather restrained. How did you become involved in the venture?
LAURENT FUCHS: Our enterprise was founded in 1976. At that time it was located in the heart of Paris, in the cabinetmaking district near Faubourg Saint-Antoine. It was founded by Alain Berda, who sold the enterprise in 1998. Initially I was one of the sleeping partners in the buy-out. I began working on company development in 1999 and became director general in 2000. Before that, I worked for a dozen years for the fashion house Nina Ricci.
How did the 40th anniversary celebrations come about?
In 2016, I was asked to submit a bid for the 50th anniversary of Cohiba Cigars. While we were making their humidors, it occurred to me that Elie Bleu had an anniversary of its own to celebrate. We needed to make a splash, especially considering the fact that the French State had named us a Living Heritage Company in 2009. Elie Bleu’s graphic identity was closely tied to the Caribbean so I decided to create a humidor called The Riches of the World with an inlayed map of the landmasses and oceans on a background of blue sycamore. In a significant allusion, the compass rose representing the center of the world is placed in the Caribbean. The humidor is very large, with a capacity of 250 cigars, and is available in a limited edition of 40. We are also developing a line of accessories: lighters, cases and cigar cutters with the same symbolism as the humidor. This marks a big first for our brand.
What are the bestselling Elie Bleu products?
We have a humidor with the face of Che Guevara, which symbolizes Cuba and the Cuban style of cigar consumption. And then there is our Flor de Alba brand, which reflects old, traditional cigar boxes: gilding, famous faces … Since last year we have been using casas cubanas: each humidor has a picture of a Cuban building (factories, hotels, houses …). The idea is to release new items each year until we have produced an entire small town. I’ll keep one of each so that we can put all of them on display some day.
When we talk about artisans and traditional methods, that usually translates into above-average prices. Is that part of the Elie Bleu style?
The amazing thing is to see how much our reputation has grown since we started limiting production to no more than 3,000 individual copies. I have often been asked whether we shouldn’t market the Elie Bleu brand or our design at more competitive prices in order to increase our sales volume and create a broader market. I have always refused to do that because I believe that Elie Bleu reflects the high standards of our production studio and our creative imagination. Is that a weakness? On the contrary, I believe the fact that we’re not marketed everywhere to be a strength.
What is the price range of Elie Bleu humidors?
Most of our classic designs cost between 1,800 and 3,500 euros. Others can cost as much as 5,000, 10,000 or even 50,000 euros. And we have clients who pay that.
Obviously. And who are your clients?
Some of the most powerful people in the world. The Élysée Palace, for example, the office of the French president, has often ordered our humidors as state gifts: for the Chinese president, the Putin family, former King Juan Carlos of Spain, the King of Morocco … In 2008, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy presented a first edition of Pascal’s Pensées to Pope Benedict XVI and asked us to create a presentation box to protect this extremely rare book.
Getting back to your most iconic humidor, the one with the portrait of Che. Not everyone is going to find that appealing …
Indeed. When we’re exhibiting at the IP- CPR in the United States, for example, we do not show them in our display case. But what has become a bestseller started out as an order from a client who wanted to market his cigars under the name of Che. I was a bit uneasy because of the copyright issue: the image is taken from a famous photo by the Cuban photographer Alberto Korda. But I agreed to produce 100 of them at 3,500 euros apiece. We put only one of them on display in Paris, and the next day we were facing a suit for 500,000 euros in damages. We would have had to shut down our enterprise! Fortunately, I found a good lawyer, and we negotiated a settlement with the copyright owner. Since then, we have had the exclusive right to use the image on our humidors.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2016. Read more