By Nick Hendry
London is known as one of the most stylish cities in the world, and one of its most famous destinations for menswear is Jermyn Street, in the district of St James’s. In prime position on the corner stands Davidoff of London Fine Cigars.
For 41 years Edward Sahakian has been the proprietor of this now world-renowned store. Today he works side-by-side with his son Eddie, and these two impeccably-dressed gentlemen make sure anyone and everyone who crosses their door is greeted with warmth, generosity and style. No Chaser caught up with them in the summer of 2021 for a coffee, a cigar and a discussion on how a passion for fine tobacco relates to a person’s sense of style.
As we sat down, on a scorching hot London afternoon at a table just outside the shop, 2 things were immediately noticeable. The first was the elegance of the Sahakians’ attire – Edward in a tobacco suit and Panama hat, Eddie in light blue linen cut by his friends and neighbours at New & Lingwood – and the second, their obvious camaraderie with the local restaurant who brought us our coffees. This kind of neighbourhood spirit is something that can be missing from areas full of retail, and speaks to the regard the pair are held in. These are most definitely stylish men, but that style – as true style always does – comes not only from their clothes, but from the way they conduct themselves and treat others. Do they believe, though, that there is a correlation between cigar-smoking and style?
Edward (ES Sr): “Style and cigars, they come hand-in-hand. I always say: people who smoke cigars are people who have good taste. From the car they drive, to the people who can afford their planes and boats, it will be the best. A cigar smoker’s character, we are people who enjoy the finer things in life – what we smoke, what we eat, how we dress – and if someone goes to the trouble of paying such attention to how they dress then, if they are a smoker, they will enjoy a fine cigar.”
Eddie (ES Jr): “Those with the means and ability will even customise their style with cigars in mind. No better example than my father – he will have special pockets added to his suits to accommodate a certain cigar shape, a cutter, a lighter…all the essentials. When you look at some of the Caribbean countries – Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua to an extent – they have an aesthetic that’s wrapped up around cigars, from the hats to the beautiful Guayabera shirts and I think a lot of us try to evoke that to some degree.”
There is one area of undoubted similarity between great cigars and great garments, and that is the craftsmanship in their creation. Surely there is a relationship between having an appreciation for both?
ES Sr: “It forms part of one’s character. Even the smallest things, you look for the finer details of it. You don’t have to be a cigar smoker to enjoy the finer things in life, but 99% of those who smoke cigars will pay as much attention to everything else”
How, then, do you think this relationship begins? Does a young person, starting out on their journey of style, perhaps seek a mentor who they see as well-dressed for advice and discover cigars through them as well?
ES Jr: “I think so. When we have new customers, or young customers, come to the shop, 9/10 will have made a real effort to dress up.”
ES Sr: “Not necessarily in suit and tie. Just today a young couple walked in for their first visit: they were not dressed fancy or formal, but everything was perfect, carefully planned.”
This rings true with my own first experience here. Many years ago, as a much younger man and still living in my native Scotland, my uncle brought me to the area for some shopping. “When we go to St James’s”, he explained, “we go to Davidoff. And when we go to Davidoff, we dress.”
This habit, of dressing well to come into St James’s is something Edward and Eddie have become very familiar with over the years. This is one of the finest gentleman’s shopping areas in the world, home to shirtmakers, hatters, shoe shops and tailors, all of whom are world-class. This association has lasted for 200 years and is something visitors still look out for today.
ES Jr: “Brooks’ Club across the road, for years we did an event with them. They would organise dinner in the club for their members, with cocktail and cigar in the shop before then drinks and a more significant cigar here after. Part and parcel was how we dressed; everyone in smoking jackets and even smoking hats, guests from their early 20s to early 90s, and always tourists knocking at the windows for permission to photograph us!”
Spending over 40 years in such a place must result in having some stories to tell. Of all the people who have come and gone over the years, who have been the most stylish?
ES Sr: “Mark Birley (late owner of Annabel’s, the exclusive Mayfair nightclub). He was always beautifully dressed, and a very stylish person. More recently Nick Foulkes (a well-known English style and luxury writer) and Jeremy Hackett. Jeremy is a perfect example of a stylish cigar smoker: one of the most famous British clothing designers, an excellent photographer and loves his cigars.”
ES Jr: “Paul Feig (American movie director). His personality is wonderful, his presentation is extraordinary as well. Elegant, and always something different. But we don’t have to look far: young Max, who works in our shop, scours eBay, doesn’t spend too much on his outfits but always puts things together in a way that looks fantastic. When customers come in and see that, I like to think it inspires them.”
It has always seemed to me that Davidoff is a place that encourages individuality of style among its employees, rather than insisting everyone conform to the same look. Edward confirms this: “We don’t have a written dress code. We just that ask they present themselves smartly, and each one inspires the other.”
This idea, of communal style inspiration, is a perfect example of the spirit which runs through the cigar community as a whole. People from all walks of life, and of all styles, brought together by a passion for smoking educate, influence and inspire each other in all manner of ways, from cigar choice to clothing and far beyond. Have any of them had a particular influence on the Sahakians’ own sartorial journey?
Edward is in no doubt: “Mark Birley. He was always immaculately dressed, and a real gentleman as well.” As for Eddie, he takes no time to turn proudly to his father and state “Mine is you. And that has evolved; I wouldn’t have said that 20 years ago! But, as I get older, I find myself gravitating toward the kind of suits my father would always be in. I’ve acquired 3-pieces, suspenders…items I never thought I’d wear.” It would seem that, for this family at least, cigars and style most certainly go hand-in-hand as they pass down through the generations.
Read more from author NICK HENDRY at www.nichendry.co.uk