YSL’s Le Smoking: Suits aren’t just for men

YSL's Le Smoking Suits

A woman and her fashion are something that always awakens a certain chaos where either she stands with the blades held across her neck or she is the weapon wielding herself to her will. Yves Saint Laurent has always enabled empowerment for women, who thoroughly enjoy the liberty to dress as they please. During the 1960s, women in pants were unacceptable. Any women who wore pants, were looked down upon regardless of the occasion. In schools, girls were taught to dress appropriately which meant, only dresses and skirts. Workplace required ladies to come dressed in skirts and shirts, but never pants or slacks. Restaurants avoided serving for those women who were dressed in any clothing that mildly gave masculine vibes. Atrocious, isn’t it? 

In 1966, as a part of the Autumn/Winter ‘Pop Art’ collection, Le smoking was first showcased by YSL. But what really sparked the chaos was the photo taken in 1975 by Helmut Newton for the French Vogue. The image shows an androgynous woman, smoking away in a dimly lit Parisian alleyway. She’s got her hair slicked back, a cigarette between her lips and a model dressed in nothing but black stilettos, entwined with her. Le smoking comprises a tailored jacket wrapped over an elegant white ruffled organza shirt, accessorised with a wide satin belt and a bow tie, paired with straight legged pants. The outfit wasn’t entirely too masculine as it was designed with many feminine components only to ensure the curves of a lady were evident at all times. The idea of a tuxedo was the only male aspect about the design. The shape and curve of the collar, a narrowed and cinched waistline in the blouse and the pants were designed to help give an elongated look for the legs.


When it first came out, Le Smoking was seen as a blunder. It was said to create gender confusion and that it broke gender norms. It was absolutely scandalous for a woman to present herself in masculine clothing and the fashion critiques did not approve it. Nan Kemper, a well known socialite and a fashionista, was refused an entry in a New York restaurant, Le Côte Basque, for flouting their dress code for the ladies by showing up dressed in something defamatory as Le Smoking. Her response to being turned down for the reason of wearing pants was to not wear it. She removed her pants and wore her blazer as a mini dress and persevered through. What started out as an unacceptable fashion statement soon became a cultural phenomenon. Celebrities presented themselves in Le Smoking at important events where there were eyes and cameras to capture it. Namely, Bianca Jagger, Yasmin Ghauri, Kate Moss, Liza Minelli, and many more known figures posed in varied renditions of the marvellous silhouette. My personal favourite rendition of the trend in our time is Blake Lively’s suits from the movie ‘A simple favour’ with Renne Ehrlich as the costume designer, where her character wears a variety of suits with a kind of confidence no one could have showcased better than herself. This shows that the trend of Le Smoking never ended and will always be a go-to for women in the many more fashion eras to come.

Since the time it was created, Le Smoking has become an immortal fashion of its own, escaping into the future fashion eras. As mentioned above, designers always look for an opportunity to recreate the design with their own touch to it but, what will forever remain as the major mark of Le Smoking is the photograph shot by Helmut Newton of the model Vibeke Knudson, in 1975. It is such a classic image that introduced a concept so ahead of its time in a time where it caused a major shift in the world of fashion. The picture represented so many unspoken perspectives for the ladies that many disagreed with and many refused to see in the design. Le Smoking was the hot topic to discuss and to risk during that time, but all the design needed was Helmut Newton and his admirable work to cast YSL’s magnificent design to be cast in the eyes of the public. The uproar it caused was deafening enough to ripple its many versions into the future times of fashion. As Pierre Berge says, ‘Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurant gave them power.’ And truer words were never said.




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