March of the Penguins:

Men always look fabulous in a classic tuxedo and thanks to Yves. St. Laurent, tuxedos, which provide a welcome alternative to something more frilly and frou, have become a wardrobe staple and must have for women as well. The legendary designer first put a woman in a tuxedo about 40 years ago when he unveiled a black grain de poudre jacket with four button down pockets and trousers at his ‘Pop Art’ autumn-winter haute couture collection in the summer of 1966 and it has been a signature of the man and the label ever since. In fact, an exhibit ‘Smoking Forever’ featuring 50 different interpretations of Yves’ ‘le smokings’ through the years opened midway through Paris Fashion Week at the Pierre Berge – Yves St. Laurent Foundation last month, and will run through April 23. It is testament to the timelessness and longevity of this perennial favorite, (about which Yves observed, “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.”)

Countless interpretations of the tuxedo can be found on international runways each season, as designers try to find new and improved ways to play around with this genre. Unsurprisingly, Stefano Pilati, creative director of Yves. St. Laurent Rive Gauche for the past three seasons, is one of them, infusing his latest spring 2006 collection (and his ‘le smoking’) with a decidedly Spanish flavor. In a very short time, Mr. Pilati has found himself in the limelight and has become a widely influential design force. His collections, notwithstanding some mixed reviews, have been right on the money in terms of the direction others would eventually take (such as the polka dots, cinched waists, wide belts with oversized buckles, and short rounded hip tulip skirts he showed for spring 2005 – his first solo effort for the label) and he has amassed legions of loyal customers.

Coincidentally, many of that loyal following were on hand to toast the designer who was here in New York this past week. On Tuesday evening, he was guest of honor at a cocktail reception held at Bergdorf Goodman (headed by a host committee that included Sophie Dahl, Linda Evangelista, Plum Sykes, Rachel Feinstein, and Anh Duong, among others). And the following day, he was present at a spring 2006 trunk show in his boutique on the store’s second floor. (It marked his first personal appearance “at such an event” as noted by ).

I had a chance to chat with the 40 year old Milanese born designer who is not only talented but blessed with matinee idol good looks and elegantly narrow frame – like his former boss and mentor Tom Ford. (Stefano worked under Tom Ford when he was at YSL and became creative director when Ford left). His dapper YSL menswear (natch!) charcoal gray suit was fitted to within one inch of its life and interestingly, fastened with a safety pin (I was intrigued since I have been known to do the same thing and when I asked whether it was a ‘statement’, or if he just lost the button. He said it was “both”).

Stefano admitted that he has always loved fashion and said he knew he wanted to be a designer by the age of 17. Though he had no formal schooling in design, he was obviously a quick study and began his career in menswear (first at the house of Cerutti and then Armani). Afterwards, he landed a job working for Miuccia Prada, where he scouted for fabrics, and was eventually given his chance to design both menswear and womenswear for Miu Miu. While he is ‘very’ Italian and loves Milan, he said he found the city to be rather “provincial” and he needed to be creatively challenged. As a designer, Paris is unquestionably the place to be and this is now the city he calls home.

As for those tuxedos (his delightfully youthful and feminine versions are featured in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman and the YSL Rive Gauche boutique just around the corner on east 57th street). When I questioned him about their relevance and importance, considering all the publicity they’re getting lately, I got the impression that while he certainly believes in them, they are not necessarily his most favorite items on the line. He feels that most women really don’t want to look like a man (especially now), and for big soirees (like the Oscars for example) none of the big stars ever wear them (they opt instead for drop dead gorgeous glamorous gowns). Of course, I happen to agree and this was precisely my observation in the last blog item. Tuxedos no doubt have their time and place but the bottom line is that when a woman wants to look fabulous, make an entrance, and truly stand out, there is nothing as dramatic as a beautiful dress or a long gown.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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