How Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking Suit Transformed Women's Fashion

Bianca Jagger wore a white Le Smoking design to wed Mick in 1971 in St Tropez

Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking How did a suit that almost failed to launch become fashion’s most iconic two-piece? A new generation rolled up their sleeves.

Challenging traditions

French fashion couturier Yves Saint Laurent introduced what would become his most iconic item, Le Smoking, in his autumn/winter 1966 collection. Originally reserved for men, the tuxedo was designed to be worn in cigar rooms before Saint Laurent liberated it from the gentleman’s club and adapted it to the female body.

Smoking hot

The fitted black wool jacket paired with trousers trimmed with silk satin was ahead of its time and the bold androgyny was largely snubbed by YSL’s couture clientele – only one sold. But the version the visionary designer created for his ready-to-wear line, Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, was an instant hit with the label’s younger clientele.

Defiantly chic

It was a time when women wearing trouser suits was against the norm but Le Smoking came to symbolise power and liberation for a generation of females set on rewriting the rules. When socialite Nan Kempner was turned away from Manhattan restaurant Le Côte Basque for breaking the dress code (prohibiting women from wearing pants), she famously slipped off the lower half of her tux, defiantly turning the jacket into a mini dress. Model Bianca Jagger wore a white tuxedo jacket with no top underneath for her wedding to Rolling Stones frontman Mick in 1971. And French singer Françoise Hardy was reportedly heckled for wearing hers to the opera.

Image to icon

In 1975, French Vogue ran an image by Helmut Newton that is forever etched in fashion history: a lone figure on a lamp-lit Paris street, masculine in dress and stance but exuding powerful femininity and sexuality without a single flash of skin. The model wears Le Smoking and in the click of a shutter the suit was immortalised, going on to inspire creatives for decades to come.

Forever stylish

“For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment and not a fashionable garment,” said Saint Laurent. “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” The designer would go on to include Le Smoking in each of his collections until he retired in 2002.

The new guard

Today, YSL creative director Anthony Vaccarello is referencing Saint Laurent’s classic design for a new generation, one not necessarily defined by youth. Veteran supermodel Naomi Campbell closed the spring/summer 2020 ready-to-wear show in a sequinned version of the suit (with Cindy Crawford, Andie MacDowell and long-time muse Catherine Deneuve sitting in the front row). And in a pleasing role reversal, it seems the boys are now borrowing from womenswear, with smart Le Smoking options for men.

SEE ALSO: Why the Legacy of the Slip Dress Lives on

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