Style: Smokin' Seams

  • William Kissel

The original smoking jackets of yesteryear were never intended for formal occasions. As their name implies, they were meant simply to protect a man’s formal shirt, tie, and waistcoat from collecting any odor while he smoked, usually behind closed doors with other gentlemen. In the 1930s, smoking jackets and dinner jackets became surrogates for evening wear after Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, wore a navy dinner jacket to a formal affair and instantly took the starch out of the traditional white tie and tails.

Fashion newcomer Lapo Elkann, grandson of another style arbiter—the late Gianni Agnelli, one of the founders of Fiat—seeks to return these neglected staples to their former place of honor in the well-rounded wardrobe. To accomplish this, Elkann has designed his Old World–inspired smoking jacket with a decidedly modern twist: It is made from DuPont’s high-tech Cordura, a nylon fabric developed in the 1970s, rather than from traditional silk or cotton velvet. The nylon gives the shawl-collared formal blazer a sporty look that could easily be worn with denim. Yet the tailor-made jacket remains "elegant enough for an evening at La Scala," insists Elkann, whose Italia Independent collection of fashion and accessories debuted last year.

While Elkann’s take on the smoking jacket is rather unorthodox, the entrepreneur has plenty of company in his attempt to resuscitate a fashion fixture of the Edwardian era. "We think it’s time for traditional, chic elegance again, but not in the usual way," explains Anna Zegna, whose family-owned Ermenegildo Zegna label produces classic notched-lapel jackets in nonclassic colors. Zegna also offers other jackets such as a notched-collar smoking jacket in silk-and-cotton velvet with mother-of-pearl buttons.

Suitmakers Brioni and Stefano Ricci, among others, are reviving the smoking jacket and the more universally wearable dinner jacket as stylish alternatives to more formal "after-five" dressing. Other unconventional formal-wear options this season include Yves Saint Laurent’s polka-dot silk dinner jackets, Canali’s floral-print smoking jackets in silk-cotton velvet, and Belvest’s formal blazers cut from cotton-corduroy velvet. With a nod to retro styling, both Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford presented elegant silk dressing gowns, along with more decorous velvet smoking jackets trimmed with classic braided frog closures, as stay-at-home formal-wear options.

While it is doubtful that Elkann’s nylon smoking jacket would have met with the same approval at a formal function as the Duke of Windsor’s dinner jacket did, Elkann and the trend-setting duke would surely have agreed on one point: Tweaking tradition never goes out of style.

PHOTO 1: Ermenegildo Zegna Couture maroon velvet jacket, $2,995, white tuxedo shirt, $595, black silk tie, $195, white silk pocket square, $120, and black tuxedo pants, $1,000 (888.880.3462, www.zegna.com); Graycliff cigar.

PHOTO 2: Tom Ford velvet jacquard cocktail jacket, $3,450, cotton evening shirt, $1,450, lavender patterned silk pocket square, $130, and wool-and-mohair trousers, $1,330 (212.359.0300, www.tomford.com); Arturo Fuente cigar.

PHOTO 3: Stefano Ricci hand-embroidered silk dinner jacket, $4,000, and silk pocket square, $100 (212.371.3901, www.stefanoricci.com); Belvest white French-cuff cotton dress shirt, $425 (www.belvest.com), available at Bergdorf Goodman (212.872.8651); Salvatore Ferragamo black silk tie, $160 (800.628.8916, www.ferragamo.com)

PHOTO 4: Brioni black moiré jacket with peak lapel and velvet trim, $5,950, and silk pocket square, $80 (212.486.0500, www.brioni.com); Belvest white French-cuff cotton dress shirt, $425 (www.belvest.com), available at Bergdorf Goodman (212.872.8651).

PHOTO 5: Yves Saint Laurent blue-and-white-striped cotton poplin shirt, and two-button jacket in kid mohair and super-wool canvas, prices upon request (212.980.2970, www.ysl.com).

PHOTO 6: Salvatore Ferragamo velvet tuxedo jacket and dress shirt, prices upon request (800.628.8916, www.ferragamo.com).

Photo by James Lipman
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