By  on September 26, 2005

PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent, his French bulldog, Moujik IV, puttering at his feet, thumbs through a rack of his celebrated smoking suits.

"This one, in velour, it's very smart," he says, lifting the jacket to the afternoon sun pouring into his workroom at 5 Avenue Marceau. "Here, this one, it's from 2001. It's très chic — the trousers are very straight.

"And here," he continues. "This is the first — 1966 — my first smoking. It's my favorite, a beloved child."

Among his many influential creations — the safari suits, the transparent blouses, the tunics, the brilliant, art-inspired gowns — "le smoking," as Saint Laurent's softened version of the masculine tuxedo became known by such stylish adepts as Betty Catroux, Catherine Deneuve and Nan Kempner, is one of the celebrated couturier's most recognizable signatures.

Now it is the subject of an exhibit, "Smoking Forever," which will open at the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Foundation on Oct. 5 and run until April 23.

It is the second of the foundation's shows to examine the designer's proclivities and influential design vocabulary; the first was an exhibit devoted to Saint Laurent and art. The latest exhibition will feature some 50 smoking suits, presented in a chessboard-like arrangement, with about 30 original sketches.

But what may not be immediately apparent to the show's visitors is the smoking's place in the larger scheme of social change in the turbulent Sixties.

When the designer first put women in it, "le smoking" was a powerful gesture — one that is hard to imagine in today's world of navel-baring celebrities. As a statement, it became the outfit for women who were as strong as men, and were out to prove it.

"It made women more powerful — in their conquest," said Saint Laurent.

So controversial was it that in the Sixties, the manager at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan refused to serve women who wore "le smoking."

"I remember when Françoise Hardy wore a smoking to the opera in Paris," recalls Saint Laurent. "Scandal. People screamed and hollered. It was an outrage."

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