Yves Saint Laurent first showed his now infamous tuxedo as part of his autumn/winter "Pop Art" collection in 1966. Stepping away from the chic anonymity of the little black dress, Le Smoking was a controversial statement of femininity – a sexuality that did not rely on ruffles or exposed skin, but instead smouldered beneath the sharp contours of a perfectly cut jacket and trouser. Of course, it was a sensation. Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minelli, LouLou de la Falaise, Lauren Bacall and Bianca Jagger: the most important scions of style from the sixties onwards all wore Le Smoking.
Yet, for all the celebrity acclaim, it was undoubtedly photographer Helmut Newton who made Le Smoking iconic; his extraordinary capacity to imbue his subjects with a potent sexuality reaching new heights when married to the louche enigma of the YSL tuxedo. Shot for French Vogue in 1975, the story featured an androgynous woman standing in a hazily lit Parisian alleyway, hair slicked back, crisp white cravat, cigarette, entwined with a model dressed only in black stilettos. With stark monochrome simplicity, Newton created a piece of iconography that to this day has never gone out of fashion.
"It was undoubtedly photographer Helmut Newton who made Le Smoking iconic; his extraordinary capacity to imbue his subjects with a potent sexuality reaching new heights when married to the louche enigma of the YSL tuxedo"
This image is one of over 200 photographs that range from Polaroids to vast canvases that are currently showing at Paris’ Grande Palais. Newton’s first retrospective in France since his death in 2004, it is curated by his widow June, who has also made a film about her husband to accompany the show.
Helmut Newton is currently showing at the South East Gallery of the Grand Palais until June 17.
Text by Tish Wrigley