Gitanes and Gauloises are the two oldest brands of cigarettes still manufactured in France. They were created at the same time, in 1910. The name for the Gauloises brand was given, instead of Hongroisesà la place, in a tense nationalist context. In fact, the blue color of the packs is reminiscent of the famous blue line of the Vosges Mountains that separate France from the provinces it lost to Germany. The cigarettes were originally made up of black, ordinary Caporal tobacco, which is grown in France. Conversely, the brand Gitanes, which was fashioned to target a richer clientele, was named such to evoke the exoticism of neighboring Spain. Gitanes are made from a mix of black tobaccos (ordinary Caporal, mild Caporal, and maryland).
These brands became popular during World War I; the men gladly smoked Gauloises, while their officers favored Gitanes. The fact that cigarettes were free for the soldiers only aided their growth in popularity. But it was not until after the war that the two brands truly took off. Their producer, SEITA (for Societe d'Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et Allumettes), which was founded in 1811, belonged to the French government until it was privatized in the mid-1990s. After World War I, SEITA helped pay off the government's debts by increasing sales through a considerable publicity campaign. In 1925 the artist Maurice Giot decorated the Gauloises pack with a drawing of a winged helmet. In 1936 Marcel Jacno modernized Giot's work, giving the Gauloises logo the appearance it has kept to this day; Jacno's purer, edgier stripe added more volume and substance to the winged helmet.
Gauloises has remained the less expensive brand, while Gitanes has continued to represent French taste. In 1926 the Gitanes brand was given packaging representative of the period's Art Deco style. One of the slogans that appeared on the subway walls of Paris in the 1930s was, "No smoking . . . Not even a Gitanes." The movies helped spread the virile image of the smoking man through such stars as Maurice Chevalier and Jean Gabin, who both smoked Gitanes. The first publicity movie for Gitanes was made in 1929 (sound was added in 1932). It was during this period that the most famous Parisian writers and artists, including the American stage actress Josephine Baker, came together to discuss their love of tobacco at the famous literary cafe Rotonde. The Gitanes blend underwent various changes over the years and at one point included Oriental tobaccos. Consumption of Gitanes climbed from 75 million units in 1926 to 850 million units in 1938.
After World War II, Gauloises and Gitanes, which were made from French black tobacco, found new competition in brands made from the American blond tobacco. In response, SEITA launched in 1956 the Gauloises Disque Bleu brand and gave it unprecedented promotional support. This version, also made from black tobacco, distinguishes itself by its filter tip. The package's design of a famous flamenco dancer dancing through wisps of smoke was drawn by the artist Max Ponty. The artist Hervé Morvan won the Martini publicity prize in 1961 for his Gitanes poster of a male flamenco dancer with a bolero in the shape of cigarettes.
Gitanes sales quadrupled between 1952 and 1957. In 1977, 18.9 billion units were sold, representing 22 percent of all cigarettes smoked in France that year. In 1985, 33 million Gauloises were sold in France, representing 38 percent of the French market. At the end of the twentieth century, however, these two brands suffered from a decline in sales; in 1993 they represented 40 percent of the market but ten years later they hardly accounted for 20 percent due to their unhealthy reputation—black tobacco is considered more carcinogenic—and to competition from the American blond cigarettes (especially Marlboro). Despite being more expensive, the American brands have won over the tastes and hearts of French consumers. As the twenty-first century begins, ALTADIS, the company that comprises SEITA and the Spanish TABACALERA, is still producing Gitanes and Gauloises in its French factories.
▌ DIDIER NOURRISSON
Adès et Jean-Hugues Piettre, Marie-Claire. Graphismes et créations SEITA: années 30, 40, 50/catalogue. Paris: Musée-Galerie de la Seita, 1986.
Encyclopédie du tabac et des fumeurs. Paris: Le Temps, 1975.
La Revue des Tabacs. Paris: André-Paul Bastien, 1925–.
nationalism the belief that the narrow, selfish interests of one's country should supersede international standards of behavior.
Art Deco the most fashionable style of design in the 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco is usually characterized by geometric lines and shapes. Smoking tobacco tins and cigarette packages of this period were often rendered in the Art Deco style.