Tuesday 22 October 2013

Object of desire - the black trouser (suit)

Yves Saint Laurent has a lot to answer for in my book.  Ever since he launched 'Le Smoking' - the bold, sophisticated tuxedo for women - way back in 1966 (a vintage year though I say it myself), the perfect black trouser (suit) has been out there, and yet it remains incredibly elusive. Which got me wondering why should such a classic item be so hard for us mere mortals to pin down?

Photo: Helmut Newton

Back in the 90's when I was living my London life, a pair of black trousers from Joseph on the Fulham Road were the nec plus ultra of office attire. Squeezing yourself into a pair of the signature low-cut, narrow-leg pants however was another matter entirely, and I didn't seem to be the right shape back then to be a Joseph girl,  regardless of whether I could afford them.... But oh, did they represent a level of chic and modernity that we all aspired to - I was not going to give up my quest.

Joseph AW13

I knew that designer definitely beat high street as regards the tailored trouser, and after some more sleuthing finally found a pair from Anna Sui in The Harvey Nicks sale: flat fronted, boot cut and beautifully made, they fitted the bill and went with everything. I hauled them out of mothballs the other day and tried them on. How fickle the fashion years are - where once they looked so right, now they just seemed frumpy and unflattering - a classic item maybe, but as the years have passed, seemingly not classic enough.

Le Smoking 1966

Yet the black trouser, with or without its jacket, remains a perennial favourite on the catwalk, and both Raf Simons at Dior and Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent (he's dropped the Yves) have reinvented it for the 21st Century in a way that just makes me lust after a pair all over again. Simons has combined them with the Dior Bar jacket for his tux redux, whilst Slimane has produced them in both wool and buttersoft leather that I am coveting (in my dreams). Further down the rock chick scale Isabel Marant has her own boho version but it is the classic slimcut wool version that will stand the test of time.

Raf Simons for Dior Haute Couture A/W 2012

Dior Ready to Wear S/S 2013

Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent S/S 2013

Pre Fall 2013 Saint Laurent

Isabel Marant in her own design for S/S 2014

If the French fashion houses are where to find the perfect pair, then it is to les Françaises we need to look for the best way to wear them. From Catherine Deneuve to Inès de la Fressange, from Charlotte Rampling (I know she's English but she is peerless in her French dress sense) to Emanuelle Alt they all wear a black trouser or full tux with consummate ease, dressing it up or down with that Gallic insouciance that I find so seductive (and know that I will never master). As Deneuve herself once commented: “The thing about a tuxedo is that it is virile and feminine at the same time.” In other words - gentlemen, watch out.

Catherine Deneuve with Yves Saint Laurent in the original 'Le Smoking'

Ines de la Fressange - Paris Fashion Week S/S 2014

Charlotte Rampling - Photo:

Emanuelle Alt Paris Fashion Week S/S 2014

Of course the high street has come a long way in the past 20 years and there are now a myriad lower price point versions of the black trouser (suit) to choose from. I keep trying the odd pair on, in the vain hope that they might do the trick, yet they remain unable to deliver on their promise, so back on the rail they go and my quest continues. Couture truly is a cut above in this instance and Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking remains as alluring today as it first did 47 years ago, offering a glamour and sophistication that the high street just can't match. To quote the great man himself “For a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.” Never a truer word said.


Nita said...

I have lots of pairs of black trousers I have bought over the years and none of them are quite right! Never stretched to couture though - maybe that's the way forward!

Juliette Chisholm said...

In our dreams, or when we win the lottery. Still you've got to have something to hanker after, non? J x

StealthCrystal said...

I am a black trouser obsessive, and in Stockholm I have found my brethren.
I currently have 4 on the go, 3 of which I am very happy with, the 4th pair is a bit frumpy.
A lot of women around Stockholm wear black trousers, typically narrow legged and tucked into chelsea boots, with cocoon or collar-less black coats. No jackets though.
Come to Stockholkm and we'll go black trouser shopping!

Juliette Chisholm said...

Honey it's a date - I'm glad the women of Stockholm have their own Scandi-style take on the black trouser - I look forward to discovering it with you. Missing you always. J x