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Updated By : February 26, 2014 11:30:11 AM JST

Le smoking fashion follows suit Everything from a beaded ballgown, to a pair of distressed jeans, to a fivefigure handbag named after a minor television celebrity, seems to have been summarised at one point or another by this throwaway phrase.But what really makes the cut?What are the real icons of style? The little black dress?Obviously.The biascut evening dress?Possibly.But of all the"Iconic"Items that have proliferated through contemporary fashion, none seem to have the enduring impact, notoriety and appeal of le smoking. A garment that manages to bridge the divide between male and female, le smoking is a symbol of evening elegance in menswear and the seductive power of female crossdressing.It is, to all extents and purposes, a man's tuxedo but once part of a woman's wardrobe the gallic term stuck, not least for the endless anglophilistine puns it allows when describing the"Smoking hot"Appeal of a woman appropriating this most masculine of garments. Le smoking has been a stalwart of the welldressed man's wardrobe for decades but, until relatively recently, its adoption by women raised eyebrows and even hackles.It was yves saint laurent who transformed le smoking into high fashion for women, showing an impeccably tailored tuxedo with cummerbund and bowtie as part of his winter 1966 haute couture collection.It was a portent:The next season, they were the keynote garment of his entire collection and became the leitmotif of his career. Saint laurent can be credited with promoting le smoking as a fashion musthave, but the credit for its daring cooption by women can be traced back a good 40 years prior to that.In the twenties, crossdressing among the artistic set of interwar europe was all the rage, with literary figures such as gertrude stein and radclyffe hall adopting tuxedos as bohemian evening attire.Its elevation to a mainstream style icon, however, can be traced to one woman:Marlene dietrich. Generally credited as being the first woman to bring the tuxedo jacket to prominence a neat echo of our own era of celebrityfixated fashion reportage dietrich created a sensation when she sported her tuxedos in private life as well as onscreen.These garments fitted like a man's suit because they bridesmaides were a man's suit.Later reports claimed they were constructed by the couture ateliers of christian dior, but throughout her career dietrich only trusted knize of austria, tailors to halfadozen archdukes and a few more crowned heads, to make her masculine garb. It was those evocative, endlessly glamorous images of dietrich that, in turn, inspired yves saint laurent three decades later:He created a wardrobe of trousers for women, but le smoking remained the apotheosis of his vision of modernity. Indeed, contrasted against the grand gowns offered by other couturiers, saint laurent's evening les smokings look rigorously modern even today.As if to underline that point, for 1970 he sent out his bride in a veiled hat and le smoking in purest white wool;A year later, bianca jagger wed in almost the same model. These seem tame to our contemporary eyes, accustomed to seeing women donning les smokings as chic evening attire, but saint laurent's smokings emerged on the haute couture catwalk at a time when women in trousers were still routinely refused entrance to fashionable restaurants.Couture client and lifelong saint laurent devotee nan kempner was turned away from new york's la cote basque in a saint laurent smoking she stripped off the trousers, wore the jacket as a dress, and just about passed muster.Likewise, when dietrich visited paris in 1932, the chief of police attempted to ban her from wearing trousers in public elegant les smokings included. Why were these garments considered so shocking?The idea that respectable women did not wear trousers was the convention, but perhaps more provocative still was the idea of Le smoking as the first truly unisex garb.Saint laurent stated that he loved les smokings because"They look equally chic on men and women".That sexual ambiguity was certainly part and parcel of the dietrich image, famously bisexual on screen and in life.The late helmut newton once stated: "Le smoking.[is] exactly the way I wished my ideal woman was dressed.It is the glorification of the 16tharrondissement bourgeoisie woman with too much money, too much free time on her hands and up to all sorts of tricks. " He immortalised the saint laurent woman as just that in 1975, clad in le smoking, cigarette poised between fingers, hand party dresses australia sale effortlessly resting in trouserpocket jeanpierre derbourd, former technical director of yves saint laurent, once said that the arms on les smokings were specially fitted to this slouched pose.That mood of transgression still characterises le smoking today it's a rebel, certainly, but more sophisticated than blue jeans and les blousons noir, less wanton than the miniskirt and less obvious than the safetypinned tshirt.Le smoking is perhaps the only form of rebellion in dress that has never fallen into selfparody.Perhaps that is because the tuxedo jacket is now a fashion perennial indeed, it is so ubiquitous that its appearance barely qualifies as a"Trend". Le smoking is the perfect combination of sensuality and rigour;A formula for sleek evening elegance and it's a formula designers are loathe to fiddle with.Why fix something that isn't broken, after all? The components of le smoking rarely change, designers rediscovering each season the doublebreasted cut, the subtle blackonblack contrast of satin against grain de poudre and the continuing sexual frisson of dressing a woman in what is still considered a man's garment. The idea of reinventing the wheel seems to be what keeps designers inspired the rules of le smoking are made to be bent.Autumn/winter 2011 proved no exception:Haider ackermann showed slouchy smokings belted over sinuous satin eveningdresses, the revived house of mugler spliced them with corsetry and latex, while at yves saint laurent, the house that started it all, stefano pilati showed le smoking true, albeit inverted in colour, a nod to bianca jagger's wedding suit as part of an allwhite finale.These are part of an exhibition, practice to deceive:Smoke mirrors in fashion, fine art and film, currently being staged in showstudio's gallery space in london.But, as that name suggests, there's a twist the designers will be creating their jackets live on camera, offering a window into each label's creation of these oneoff pieces. "This series is all about dispelling the myths and misconceptions of the fashion industry, the smoke and mirrors if you will,"Says gallery director and curator carrie scott, adding that each designer's wares will be on sale following the broadcasts. Returning to that idea of"Iconic"Fashion, could there be a finer investment than these oneoff pieces?An alternative could be a slice of vintage saint laurent haute couture original les smokings occasionally surface on ebay or through vintage clothing dealers such as london's kerry taylor, reflecting the subtle evolutions of a hardy fashion perennial.Shoulders narrow and widen, waists rise and fall, the style remains. When it comes to le smoking, an icon of the 20th century that looks set to continue into the new millennium, it feels fitting that m.Saint laurent should have the last word: "For a woman, le smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion.Fashions come and go, but style is forever. "


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