This time for GentleWoman, Fashion Courier takes a look at the fashion work of Parisian designer Yves Saint Laurent, and introduces us to the history and significance of Le Smoking, the timeless suit that continues to inspire the high fashion world today.

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YSL woman

The iconic Yves Saint Laurent woman, as envisioned by the legendary Parisian fashion brand and its revolutionary founder, Yves Saint Laurent, embodies a unique combination of qualities and values that the modern GentleWoman constantly loves. The famous fashion designer created haute couture and ready-to-wear clothes for a wide variety of women. There are recurring ethos in his ouevre that have no expiration date and are still relevant.

Yves Saint Laurent believed in empowering women through fashion, and his timeless designs were designed to give his female customers a sense of power and freedom. The heroine dressed by Saint Laurent is a strong, courageous, assertive and confident woman who accepts her individuality and is not afraid to challenge social norms. This ultra-chic goddess exudes elegance and sophistication wherever she goes. She appreciates timeless beauty and opts for classic cuts, but likes to add claw to her styles, which reverberate with female empowerment.

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Le Smoking
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Androgynous style

There is something absolutely timeless about the androgynous style that Yves Saint Laurent promoted in the second half of the 1960s. The style blurred the boundaries between masculine and feminine aesthetics, offering a genderless closet. The Saint Laurent woman’s closet experiments with traditionally masculine elements, such as tailored suits and over-sizesilhouettes, while retaining elements of femininity, and that enigmatic but alluring je ne sais quoi. And this is where the iconic Le Smoking – or one of Saint Laurent’s most important fashion creations – comes in.

Le Smoking

Le Smoking is the term coined by Yves Saint Laurent to describe his legendary tuxedo suit for women. Launched in 1966, this black wool formal wear revolutionized the fashion industry, challenging traditional gender norms and introducing a charismatic new style that continues to inspire fashionistas around the world today. “For a woman, a tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel stylish,” the designer himself claimed. Considering that Le Sm oking is almost 60 years old (!) and has a name as a fashion icon, it seems that Saint Laurent was right. Le Sm oking, according to the designer, is a fitted black blazer with pronounced shoulders and satin lapels, worn with voluminous cropped pants. Although the distinctive outfit was directly inspired by men’s fashion and traditional men’s tailcoats, it was redesigned and tailored specifically with the female figure in mind. Even the fashion house’s first Le Smoking emphasized clean lines, sharply cut tailoring and a non-aging, minimalist aesthetic.

As one can certainly surmise, Le Smoking was a radical fashion concept. It was unheard of for women to wear pants as evening wear. Meanwhile, the designer’s more conservative clientele, who had hitherto ordered haute couture creations with the Yves Saint Laurent label, were not impressed by this nonchalant move by their favorite Parisian designer. But Saint Laurent steadfastly believed in the power of Le Smoking. Two months after showing the suit on the runway, in September 1966, he opened a ready-to-wear boutique on Paris’ Left Bank and presented his more affordable – and aptly named – line of Rive Gauche , which included just Le Smoking. It was an instant sales hit among the brand’s younger, more progressive-minded customers. It was also a watershed moment for the French press as well as most of French society, which still had the sexual liberation movement before it. Yves’ rebellion was a success, comparable by fashion historians to the fashion revolutions of the likes of Coco Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior (in whose atelier the young Saint Laurent learned the secrets of high tailoring, after which he took over the reins of creative director for a brief period).

In the 1970s, thanks to the designer’s muses – such as Betty Catroux, LouLou de la Falaise and Lauren Bacall – who wore the controversy-inducing creation on a daily basis, the women’s suit became the new norm in the closets of women around the world. Catherine Deneuve, the brand’s most loyal ambassador and close friend of the designer, wore this “masculine” ensemble to film premieres as well as to photo shoots for major global magazines. Le Smoking was, Saint Laurent claimed,“the symbol of the modern woman.” It also became a feminist symbol of female power, challenging social conventions and promoting equality in the workplace. Le Smoking was most famously immortalized in a series of photographs by Helmut Newton for the 1975 issue of Paris Vogue, forever rooting the suit’s image in pop culture. The photos show a mysterious woman wearing a Le Smoking striped shirt, a blouse with a bow and a pair of stilettos, with a cigarette in her hand. She strolls through the evening streets of Paris, fearless, confident. In other words, the DNA of the Saint Laurent woman is fully captured in these few black-and-white, immensely iconic photos.

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Yves Saint Laurent
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Fashion Statement

Over time, Le Smoking has been reinterpreted dozens of times by various fashion designers and has remained a timeless and influential fashion statement . He became an icon of fashion history, representing the elegance, sophistication and rebelliousness of Yves Saint Laurent.

The outfit from Newton’s iconic photos looks completely current in 2023. This is certainly confirmed by the first look from Saint Laurent’s autumn-winter 2023 collection. The ribbed blazer in the distinctive wool grain de poudre fabric is styled with a chic pencil skirt. The look was immediately hailed as one of the biggest hits of the season. Interestingly, the entire fall collection of the French fashion house orbits around the idea of a chic tuxedo. From Tom Ford and Stefan Pilati to current creative director Anthony Vaccarello, each of Saint Laurent’s contemporary designers is redefining Le Smoking – and even in its most faithful iterations, it doesn’t seem to be passe. Examples of this include Hedi Slimane‘s memorable designs for the fashion house. In his first collection for Saint Laurent, he presented dozens of variations on the legendary tuxedo, styling them with voluminous hats, sunny aviators and high stilettos. With the Parisian brand’s suit is like the famous saying “fashion passes, style is eternal.” These are, of course, the words of Yves himself!

Le Smoking
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Fashion by Yves

But Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion legacy is not only the famous Le Smoking. The French designer has earned his place on fashion’s Mount Olympus thanks to his many contributions. The high fashion designer’s unruly nature and his desire to transcend fashion norms influenced the brand’s ethos, and the modern woman continues to celebrate this attitude. Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to start a dialogue between fashion and art. The fascination with art stemmed from the private collection of Yves and his business (as well as life) partner, Pierre Bergé. They both collected and were inspired by the works of major artists, which they displayed in their sophisticated apartment at rue 55 de Babylone in Paris. One need only think of the mini-dresses inspired by the neoplastic paintings of Piet Mondrian or the 1988 haute couture collection inspired by the Cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to understand how important art was to Saint Laurent. He also paid respectful tribute to the work of Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, as well as African and Asian artistic heritage. Saint Laurent loved to surprise with unobvious color combinations and prints (his memorable red lip pattern caused quite a scandal in the 1960s). But above all, the fashion designer’s style is the definition of immortal Parisian chic rooted in the world of haute couture, elegant and timeless, signed with the ever-desirable YSL logo – designed by an illustrator nicknamed Cassandre.

At GentleWoman‘s editorial team, we idolize the fashion heritage and genius of Yves Saint Laurent. We take inspiration from the fashion label’s contemporary shows, as well as seek out vintage gems with the French designer’s label. We are seriously considering investing in the brand’s women’s tuxedo for next season. And what is Saint Laurent style for you?

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