Any woman who has ever worn a tuxedo will talk about it with enthused reverence. Its rebelliousness and understated elegance make it a classic for women who like to be able to be truly move in their eveningwear. It speaks of irreverence and non-conformity in a way that a sparkly princess dress just doesn’t.
Paul Smith is a man who has long extolled the virtues of women in tailoring. After so many women started wearing his menswear pieces, he decided to launch womenswear back in 1993 – and suiting lay at its heart. Free-spirited and iconoclastic women such as Patti Smith, Charlotte Rampling and Lauren Bacall - all of whom were fans of a good suit - have always served as his muse.
This season, the British designer has taken it up a notch and has launched a dedicated tuxedo collection just for women. Created in a monochrome palette, the line includes beautifully cut separates made using traditional couture-level techniques - think classic tuxes, double-breasted evening coats and silk shirts.
If you’re still yet to be convinced out of your LBD this Christmas, allow Paul Smith himself to wax lyrical on his love of a woman in a tux.
A suit on a girl is like a frame round the picture
“The women’s tux has always had this appealing sexiness to it and I’ve always liked that androgynous look. Maybe you think it’s a bit weird for me to call it a frame around a picture, but the picture is you girls, the frame is the streamlined elegant look of a tuxedo. It shows your shape and line - and is equally as sexy as a dress that shows a lot of skin. A suit or a tux respects the body, goes in at the waist, the trousers should streamline the leg – it shows off a woman’s figure in a way that isn’t obvious.”
My wife was my first ever tailoring muse and teacher
“I met Pauline, my girlfriend then and wife now, when I was 21. She had studied at the RCA as a fashion designer and it that era when how things were made were crucial; the importance of the way a sleeve is put into a jacket and the roll of a lapel… It was something I was schooled on when I met Pauline. She used to make her own clothes that were always so beautifully made, that could be a tailored coat or a suit – and I learnt from that.”
The day the women’s tux was born was a ground-breaking moment – and not everyone was impressed
“When I was 21, I was privileged to go to a lot of the couture shows in Paris, including the Saint Laurent show where he first launched Le Smoking in 1967. It was unbelievably outrageous and wasn’t well received at the time – it was so different. The model wore a silk chiffon top and a jacket – and, for the first time, you saw a bare women’s chest on the catwalk. The 20 people in the audience – the couture shows were very intimate affairs then - were shocked. Then Helmut Newton made it truly iconic with his shoot in a Parisian alleyway 1975. But, it was and still is incredibly sexy.”
Look to Patti Smith, Charlotte Rampling and my wife as tuxedo style heroes
“Patti Smith wears a suit well, Charlotte Rampling looks amazing in them and my wife looks fantastic in hers – she is the owner of the very last Le Smoking couture tux. Saint Laurent made her the last one, kindly reproducing the style from 1967 which is the year we met. So that was quite special, and she wears it occasionally when we’re going to something posh.”
The women’s tux is almost more relevant now than ever
“With what’s been happening now with Me Too and Weinstein, what women wear on the red carpet is changing. I wonder if the rise in women wearing tailoring is related to the recent feminist movements - I can’t say for sure, but it’s interesting. Maybe it’s a good time for ladies to just wear something that’s elegant and beautifully made that says, ‘I’m me.’ Tuxes have loose canvas, strong shoulders, they’re single and double breasted, this collection is proper. This isn’t a fashion tuxedo, it’s a real tuxedo which means it’s based on the construction of couture piece.”
Women in tuxes and suits signals a certain independence
“This is just my opinion, but tuxes worn by women seem to suggest an independence, and also a confidence of a sophisticated someone who doesn’t necessarily need to do something overtly sexy to draw attention to herself. It’s says that you have an interesting mind and a good conversation. Tuxes and suits are worn by women on the move, who want to get on with things. They’re not looking for a symbol or sign to say, ‘look at me, I’m sexy.’ They don’t need that extra validation. They’re just saying, ‘I am me.’”
Tuxes are more versatile than you think
“I love a tux with a Fruit of the Loom T-shirt and trainers. I love a tux jacket with worn-out blue jeans. There’s so many different ways you can wear it depending on the occasion and what you want to say. You can wear a tux jacket, with a vest, Levi’s 501s and Converse – that’s a fantastic look. Or with a Victorian lace blouse under a beautiful tux, or with a classic silk shirt.”
They’re extremely comfortable
“For some reason, we’re all running around like mad people all the time. There’s no time to do anything anymore, so comfort is very important. Paul Smith suits, especially the tuxedo collection, have a loose canvas inside the jacket. The key word here is loose. With a lot of tailoring, the interlining will be glued to the fabric, but the traditional way is a loose canvas, which still looks beautiful, but the point is when you move, it moves. It gives you a freedom of movement. With a glued canvas – if you lift your arm, the whole garment lifts up, because it’s fused.”
And don’t forget the joy of a pocket
“As you get older, and you have your spectacles and your house keys and you don’t want to carry a bag that you might lose or that’s just in your way, then an outfit with pockets is fantastic. A bit of a lippy, a card and your keys, tucked into your pocket, and you’re off. It’s just practical stuff.”
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