“Le Smoking”: the Story Behind a Constantly Reinvented Piece

1966. Pants were prohibited, or at least looked down on, for women. The reason: their “obscenity”. Two years before the tumultuous Parisian riots of May 1968, at a time when women were beginning to flourish in their active lives, Yves Saint Laurent punctuated his career dedicated to beauty and elegance by bequeathing them an argument for power. In that year, the couturier announced his Pop Art collection; it caused a stir and ended up changing all the rules in the fashion world. Amongst the pieces from that Fall/Winter 1966-1967 haute couture runway was a scandalous silhouette: #262 was dubbed “Le Smoking” by the Americans no less – the first suit for women ever to be designed by a man. YSL, during his farewells for the haute couture show in 2002, emotionally reminisced: “I always wanted to put myself at the service of women. I wanted to accompany them in the great movement for liberation that occurred last century.” And it was through this piece, consisting of straight-legged pants, a white ruffled organza shirt, a bow tie, a satin belt to tie everything together around a long jacket with an adjusted cut, that he succeeded in turning his era upside down. It was goodbye to the endless parade of insufferably long dresses; “le smoking” became the new standard in evening wear. The first to sport it was Catherine Deneuve in 1967. A number of conservatives were quite offended! Seeing it as a confusion of genders and thereby a perversion of the natural order of things, judging it without being able to observe Yves Saint Laurent’s genius… indeed, a second-hand interpretation can lend itself to misunderstanding. Instead of giving women second-hand men’s designs, the artist undressed men to accommodate women.
These tuxedo-clad women also evoked the wave of cross-dressing that, from the British colonies to the lesbian cabarets of Paris, was in fashion during the post-war years. Garçonnes and female homosexuals wore a full suit with a cigarette holder in hand. For Pierre Bergé, the Saint Laurent woman isn’t an androgynous one: “she borrows clothes from men to heighten her femininity.” A bit like Chanel. It was no coincidence then that they say she liberated women while Yves Saint Laurent empowered them. Power, indeed, that’s what it’s all about. By borrowing, transcribing this masculine garment, symbol of power, to allow women to wear it, Yves in his own words “conferred the attributes of one gender to another.” Pierre Bergé sees the idea of a woman in a men’s suit as: “the very mark of a woman of today. I think that, if you had to represent the woman of the 70s at some point in time, a woman wearing pants would come to mind since… pants became one of the cornerstone pieces in the modern woman’s wardrobe.” From 1966 until Yves Saint Laurent retired from the fashion world, “le smoking” became immortal. Just like a ritual, its passing-by on the runway is coveted. Throughout his years of creation, the couturier explored and used all the possibilities within the principle: never saying no to the mixing of genres, calling out to any and every hybridization, “le smoking” has been transfigured through skirts, shorts, knickers, dresses, or kimonos. Remaining a sure bet at the hand of YSL, “le smoking” never ceases to suggest the extreme sensuality of a contrast between masculine and feminine. Discovering its virile rigor through a slit along the thigh, exhibiting a shoulder, or simply tied with a black lace bra… “Le smoking” became mythic when it made itself the eternal home of ultra femininity, in 1989, when it brushed right up against the skin. Today, this creation incarnates the epitome of elegance, giving grace and self-assurance to its bearer.
While it may have been imagined for haute couture in 1966, the icon really got heads turning in Saint Laurent Rive Gauche’s ready-to-wear line. Yves Saint Laurent deployed his creation to blur the lines between the stage and the streets, between pomp and circumspect. Grasping this distinction, he made his creation a manifesto of it. Marguerite Duras perceived “Saint Laurent women from the harems, castles, and even the suburbs; they walk the streets, the metros, the Prisunic, the Bourse.” Through this piece, he allowed a woman to always feel in fashion, for it’s a stylish piece, not a fashionable one. “Fashions pass, style remains.”

The Tuxedo Smoking of YSL: Key dates

1966 Yves Saint Laurent introduces Le smoking tuxedo suit in the POP Art Collection with the French actress Catherine Deneuve as a model. A full dinner jacket suit is paired with open-toed pumps.

1974 The English actress, model and singer Charlotte Rampling is protagonist of a new campaign for Le smoking.

1975  Helmut Newton makes the look immortal by photographing Vibeke Knudsen in Rue Aubriot for the French edition of Vogue.

1971 Bianca Jagger wears the YSL Smoking to her wedding with Mick Jagger.

1986 Catherine Deneuve is again protagonist of a campaign for Le smoking on Vogue.

1991 The Canadian model Yasmeen Ghauri wears Le smoking with a chic top hat and a shorter unplugged black jacket in the Spring/Summer couture.

1993 Kate Moss poses for Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring advertising campaign signed by Helmut Newton.

1997 YSL introduces a new old school look for le smoking and the smoking Barathea tuxedo in Spring/Summer couture collection.

1999 Phillipe Cometti revamps the image of the classic Smoking with Stella Tennant as a model for the Fall/Winter collection.

2001 Yves Saint Laurent replaces the traditional jacket with some fur and forwent shirts for the Fall Winter couture collection.

2001 YSL changes things with a greyer suit with white gloves for the Spring/Summer collection.

2002 YSL designs a new version of the Smoking with a dress in his last Collection show. He says his Goodbye to the fashion world with his models wearing Le smoking in the 2002 couture collection.

2008 Kate Moss poses for a YSL Ad Campaign by Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin.

2009 French comedian Melanie Laurent sparks at Cannes Film festival wearing a white Smoking.’

2012 Jessica Chastain poses for the new Manifesto perfume campaign wearing Le Smoking portrayed by Max Vadukul.

2013 Cara Delevigne wears Le smoking for YSL Baby Doll Mascara campaign.

2013 Anne Hathaway joins Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson and Amber Valletta on the Hedi Slimane hype with each a unique Smoking style.

2013 : YSL dresses the Daft Punk metal band in smoking.

2014 Hedi Slimane presents Abbey Lee Kershaw with a modern-day version of Le Smoking.

2014 Jennifer Connelly in smoking Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane in the DuJour Magazine Performance party in New York.

2014 Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie spotted wearing le smoking with an undone tie and satin side strips for the BAFTA. One month later will be the turn of Emma Watson.

2015 Julianne Moore stuns in a classic jacket and long pants Smoking with a see through top in the Canadian Screen awards.

2016 – 2016 : YSL presents a new version of Le Smoking Tuxedo.

2016 Jane Birkin is the new face of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking Campaign.

2017 : Anthony Vaccarello proposes a new version of the Tuxedo for his Fall Winter collection.

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