The cigarette from its growth in popularity in the 1880s has served as both a detriment to and an accessory of life [1].

British troops in the trenches of WWI were provided with duty free tobacco by the government, while family members would squirrel away tobacco sending it in care packages to their soldier kin [1].

During WWII a time in which women were utilised in war efforts and as labour in the work force, cigarettes, until then predominantly smoked by men, granted women a kind of inclusion in the workplace and at social functions. Cigarettes at this time were seen to symbolise an optimistic sense of liberation and Americanisation globally [1].

WWII era cigarette advertisement

WWII era cigarette advertisement. Image source:

During the 1950s Tobacco companies leveraged the female market creating overt advertising campaigns that linked cigarette smoking with ideals of glamour, sophistication and sex appeal. This type of explicit advertising was backed up by a more insidious variety proliferated through Hollywood films and celebrity culture [1].

Joan Crawford for Chesterfield cigarettes

Joan Crawford for Chesterfield cigarettes. Image source:

As the adverse health effects of cigarette smoking became widely known advertising by tobacco companies was restricted. By the 1990s many countries including Australia enforced complete bans on cigarette advertising, a move that led the tobacco industry to develop more covert promotional techniques [2].

The cigarette for so long was positioned as the ultimate fashion accessory however after the banning of explicit cigarette advertising Tobacco companies made an accessory of the fashion industry itself.

We need look no further than our own Australian fashion industry for examples of manipulative alignment between tobacco companies and the fashion industry. Australian designer Peter Morrissey sent smoking models down the runway to showcase his range at Fashion Week 2000. In an interesting twist, Sarah O’Hare (future daughter-in-law to Rupert Murdoch) was implicated as one of the smoking models. Rupert Murdoch, the reporter claimed, was a member of the board of Phillip Morris at that time. Another contemporaneous example of tobacco company tactics involved a Wayne Cooper fashion show at a re-launch party for Dunhill cigarettes held at iconic Sydney hairdresser Joe Gibara’s salon. Upon questioning Gibara claimed the event was booked by an event organisation company under ambiguous pretences [2].

These examples are of course morally suspect however I would like to examine further the enduring symbolism of the cigarette and why it still appears as an iconic element in recent photographic work by designer and photographer Hedi Slimane. Taking as his subject 90s grunge icon Courtney Love, Slimane creates images that simultaneously play on themes of beauty and decay. Love, an aging icon, is posed with the equally iconic symbol of death and ephemerality the cigarette.

Elizabeth Wilson cites the abject as a potential component in the allusion of glamour. Since the Romantic era ideas of beauty have been linked to death and doom [3]. I posit this is a factor in Slimane’s work but go further to say the cigarette offers a kind of memento mori, a reminder that we will all die and that earthly pleasure is transient [4]. The cigarette is a heartbreaking reminder of the ultimate worthlessness and unobtainability of glamour. Both are cruel and thankless masters to whom we remain martyred and enslaved.

Courtney Love takes a drag

Courtney Love takes a drag. Image source:


[1] Elliot, Rosemary. 2006. ‘Everybody did It’—Or Did They?: The Use Of Oral History In Researching Women’s Experiences Of Smoking In Britain, 1930–1970. Women’s History Review 15, (2): 297-322

[2] Lawson, V. 2003. Glamour Puff: Australia Has A Total Ban On Tobacco Advertising and Promotion…But Tobacco Marketing Goes On. This article is reprinted with the kind permission of The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 2002. (cover essay). Tobacco control 12, (1): 3

[3] Wilson, Elizabeth. 2007. A Note on Glamour. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 11, (1): 95-107

[4] Tate. Glossary of Art Terms. Accessed: 22 September 2015. URL: