“Colt 45 and two Zig-Zags, baby, that’s all we need.” — Afroman
Whether it’s marijuana or tobacco, Zig-Zag has become synonymous with DIY rolling culture. The French cigarette papers date back to the 19th century and have been name-dropped by everyone from Snoop and Cypress Hill, to Eazy-E and Eminem. The little orange packages even cover a wall at Willie Nelson’s ranch in Central Texas. Those who disagree with the arguments against using rolling papers could probably better explain how the brand differs from its competitors, but Zig-Zag’s longevity in the game is about more than quality—it’s also about brand recognition. One of the keys to building a company that stands the test of time is good branding, which includes a memorable name and logo. You’ve seen that guy’s face countless times at your local bodega or smoke shop, but who is he and where the hell did he come from?
Zig-Zag founders Maurice and Jacques Braunstein invented and patented a packaging process for interleaving papers so they would dispense automatically from a booklet. The Braunstein Brothers chose “zig-zag” as a reference to the Z shape of the layered papers, but the suave, bearded man that has graced the outside of their booklets for more than a century does more to connect with the company’s French roots and to the history of rolling and smoking tobacco.
So, here’s the abridged version for those who didn’t have to suffer through AP World History in high school: From 1853 to 1856, soldiers from France, the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia, and the British Empire fought the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. Legend has it that during a year-long operation known as the Siege of Sevastopol, a light-infantry soldier in the French army who was known as a Zouave got in the way of a speeding bullet and lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, his clay pipe was not so lucky and was rendered useless. Stuck in the middle of a war, the unnamed Zouave couldn’t just leave to get a new pipe, so he put on his thinking cap and got inventive. The soldier reached for a gunpowder bag, ripped off a piece of paper, wrapped his tobacco inside, and lit up. This makeshift vessel for smoking somehow caught on, and nothing was the same.
Image via ZigZagWorld on Instagram
The Braunsteins began using the image of “Le Zouave” on packages as a tribute and have kept him around for over 130 years. As most brands, Zig-Zag updated the look of the logo several times, but the basic elements remained the same: a man with a beard, wearing a hat, with a rolled cigarette either in his hand or in his mouth. The cigarette graphic is vague enough that the consumer can decide what the man is smoking based on their smoking preference, and now that cigar wraps and vaporizers are a part of Zig-Zag’s inventory, even more people can relate to and embrace the icon.