A pinstriped suit, maximum decolletage and a huge Havana cigar. Is this the very image of Girl Power for the millennium? The smart money says no, for that was Ginger Spice at the Spice World movie premiere on Tuesday night, and the smart money says that her best days may not lie ahead.
But in much less time than it takes to enjoy a decent Havana, you can cross Soho to a place where Sybil Gosselin has seen the future: it involves lots of women and it smokes - in heavy, aromatic swirls.
Earlier this year we were bombarded with images of Claudia Schiffer, Demi Moore and even the health-conscious Madonna, puffing on fat Havanas, and that provoked (or reflected) a great explosion of cigar bars in New York. Two months ago, in what used to be the White Tower, a rather regal Greek restaurant where Princess Margaret has been known to dine, Gosselin opened the Number One Cigar Club of London, and invited in the city boys and girls who always hankered for a Havana.
Sybaritically smoking in our photograph is Christina Graham, 25 years old, enjoying the pleasures of her club. She is at ease though she says that people definitely stare when she smokes cigars. "They think I am being deliberately vampish. And needless to say, when cigars are offered around after a dinner I am almost always left out. People assume as a girl you just don't smoke them."
But Sybil Gosselin is an emancipator: "I know from experience that the taste appeals not only to the male palate. That's why I am trying to encourage women to try cigars. Cigar smoking is one of the good things in life. It is like discovering a fine wine.
Since the club opened, more than 100 people, including 25 women, have joined and Sybil hopes that they will have 600 members by the end of the next year. But a virgin smoker does not have to commit to membership. The place is also a bar and restaurant. "Some people genuinely want to try and acquire a taste for cigars, others join because it is fashionable," she says. There are100 types of cigar on offer, from fat Monte Cristos to torpedo-shaped Cohibas and the romantically named Romeo y Julieta.
"We buy all our cigars from Hunters and Frankau, one of the oldest cigar importers in the country," says Sybil. "When you take into account different brands and sizes, there are about 800 cigars in all. I would recommend you start with one of our most popular brands."
Cigars may be her passion but shipping is Sybil Gosselin's main business. "I go to Cuba several times a year for my tanker business and I just couldn't help being enticed by the idea of cigars. And the more I tried them, the more I realised I loved the taste." From early on Sybil took her cigar smoking seriously. "It started as a hobby," she says, "and it has ended in me founding this club, although this is still a sideline for me."
As for Ginger Spice: we see her holding the cigar. But did she ever smoke it?
The No. 1 Cigar Club of London, 1 Percy Street, London W1. Tel: 0171- 636 8141Reuse content