After years of denim designs, DIFFA mixes it up with a new concept: Smoking jackets  inspired by Yves St. Laurent

DENIM TO SILK  The classic smoking jacket replaces DIFFA’s iconic jean couture at the annual Collection — a major change for the fashion-forward AIDS fundraiser. (Photo courtesy Thomas Mosley/Art of Mind)

DENIM TO SILK | The classic smoking jacket replaces DIFFA’s iconic jean couture at the annual Collection — a major change for the fashion-forward AIDS fundraiser. (Photo courtesy Thomas Mosley/Art of Mind)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


Hilton Anatole,
2201 N. Stemmons Freeway.
March 31 at 6 p.m. 214-748-8580.


Ever since the design community came together more than 25 years ago to do something — anything — to combat AIDS, DIFFA Dallas has made fashion a front-and-center part of its fundraising … and the gala dinner and runway show that has come to be known as The Dallas Collection has been the centerpiece of that effort. And while the signature jean jacket was not the couture-of-choice at the beginning (“At the very first [one], we made dresses,” recalled John Ahrens, a former producer of the runway show, in 2009), for 20 years, the iconic denim jacket has been a focus for DIFFA.

But all things must change.

After a rebuilding period for the past two years, DIFFA is back with a vengeance, and this time, they have decided to shake things up. Denim is out, replaced by another classic American silhouette: The smoking jacket.

“We have done the denim jacket forever and we wanted to elevate it to a little more sophistication,” says Darin Kunz, a local jeweler and co-chair of this year’s Collection. “We wanted to pay homage to our tradition of jackets but in a really sexy way so that people would want to put them on and wear out. It’s kind of exciting.”

Smoking Haute — the theme for the Dallas Collection, which takes to the runway Saturday at the Hilton Anatole — owes its concept to the radically androgynous show created by Yves St. Laurent in 1966, Le Smoking. Combining the fine, minimalistic tailoring of menswear with the glamorous fashion sense of female couture, YSL freed women to be both feminine and forceful: It was the beginning of the power suit, and its influence continues today.

The smoking jacket has been a staple for men since at least the middle of the 19th century, undergoing a resurgence in the 1950s when Hugh Hefner popularized it as the look of Playboy. But even in an era when public smoking is on the downswing (don’t try to light up at the Anatole Saturday night!), the look and appeal of the smoking jacket is as strong as ever: Casual but classy, elegant yet comfortable — a perfect symbol for what DIFFA tries to create.

The idea to change direction with a smoking jacket “was really a collaboration between [co-chair Matt Wilkerson], myself and Jan Strimple, who’s one of the co-directors of the event and instrumental in the concept,” says

Kunz. “I was certainly aware that YSL was an expert of the woman’s tuxedo but not until Jan brought it to my attention” did he realize its revolutionary role in fashion.

While the smoking jacket is most identified with men, YSL changed that … and many of the five dozen designers contributing more than 70 suits to DIFFA this season are happy to flex their couturier skills in giving women something to wear while taking a puff. That’s even reflected in this year’s Collection.

“I think we have about 26 men’s jackets and the balance are women’s,” Kunz says.

Many high-profile designers, and some celebrities outside the fashion arena, contributed looks. Kiton has contributed a jacket worth about $7,000, paired with a $900 pair of jeans, as part of a package; Dallas designer Abi

Ferrin is back; Jean Paul Gaultier has contributed a piece worn by Rihanna; and Jay Strongwater of Neiman Marcus designed matching men’s and women’s jackets.

“I think it has reinvigorated a lot of designers,” says Kunz. Some have designed not just jackets, but whole tuxedos; JCPenney’s Geoffrey Henning did three women’s suits, complete with footwear.

“The Collection has come together beautifully,” Kunz says.

It just goes to prove that DIFFA’s ability to put on a buzzworthy show is part of its DNA. It’s just not in its jeans.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2012.