The stupendous opulence that has become synonymous with the words ‘Yves Saint Laurent’ cannot be glazed over. Right from his very first collection at Christian Dior aged just 21, the “little prince of fashion” established a career that would be largely characterised by his unwavering audaciousness, which has translated into today’s Saint Laurent brand we associate with the regular dissemination of interminably striking pieces.
Saint Laurent’s wrongful dismissal from the house of Dior in 1960 not only invigorated the passion and prowess which had already manifested itself in previous collections but conceived what would become somewhat of an emblem for Parisian fashion and panache: The House of Yves Saint Laurent was born. From the avant-garde verve of the genius Mondrian collection of 1965 to the mammoth scandal surrounding the Paloma Picasso à-la wartime fashion-inspired 1971 Spring collection, one apotheotic piece stands out from the rest. As we mark 13 years since the tragic passing of the man that W Magazine calls “the last great example of the traditional Parisian couturier” we take a look at none other than: ‘Le Smoking’.
As with multiple European tongues, the word ‘smoking’ in the French language translates literally to ‘tuxedo’ in English and is derived from the gentlemanly cigar jackets worn by the English gentry in the Victorian era. For a 30-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, Le Smoking was to epitomize a somewhat poetic resistance to the very entity its name symbolises: The ‘gentleman’s club’ that was the world at the time.
“For a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment and not a fashionable garment. Fashions fade, style is eternal.”
As the first mainstream tuxedo designed for the female body, Le Smoking debuted in the YSL Autumn/Winter 1966 ‘pop art’ collection. The set featured a sharply fitted wool black tuxedo jacket, paired with trousers and a satin side stripe, worn with a ruffled white shirt. For the first time in haute couture, the lines between male and female garments were blurred. This ultra-modern odyssey taken by Saint Laurent into the potential for a shift towards the normalization of androgynous fashion perhaps outpaced the womenswear of the time, as the piece was largely met with contempt that was by no means confined to the fashion industry. A Le Smoking clad Nan Kempner turned away from Le Cote Basque in New York due to a no trouser rule for women. Embodying the saying “You are what you wear”, the socialite acted boldly in true Saint Laurent fashion, removing her trousers and wearing the tuxedo jacket as a mini dress.
“Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.”
1966 was a fundamental year for the House of Yves Saint Laurent. The opening of Saint Laurent Rive-Gauche, the ready-to-wear boutique which spearheaded the mass migration by a multitude of French couturiers into the world of mainstream retail also marked the skyrocketing of Le Smoking to an untouchable level within the fashion industry.
Le Smoking became an intrinsic part of each Saint Laurent collection up until the retirement of YSL himself in 2002. Around its 46th birthday, with Hedi Slimane appointed as Creative Director, Le Smoking was resurrected and remained in its full glory as if it had never left. Today, Le Smoking retains its unfaltering position as a key fashion staple. Sauntering down the runway in a sequinned version of Le Smoking by Anthony Vaccarello to close the Spring/Summer 2020 collection at Paris Fashion Week Naomi Campbell manifests the reasoning behind her status as a long-time muse of Yves Saint Laurent himself. The success of this modern take on the piece is proof that the Le Smoking is, and will forever remain a timeless symbol of female empowerment in the fashion industry.