On Monday night, LaQuan Smith wore LaQuan Smith, which is not necessarily something LaQuan Smith normally does. It was for the CFDA Awards, where the designer was nominated for American Womenswear Designer of the Year. The annual event is considered the “Oscars of Fashion” to some, but Smith tells me it also “sorta feels like prom.” His date for fashion prom was none other than Khloé Kardashian, who wore a custom cutout LaQuan Smith gown that looked like she had taken a dip in a pool of melted bronze and wiped off a sleek segment at her torso, revealing her abs and just the right amount of underboob.
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While Smith was nominated for his womenswear work, there was actually more LaQuan Smith menswear on the red carpet than anything else. And LaQuan Smith doesn’t even do menswear—at least not officially. Not yet. “Traditionally, Tom Ford is my go-to designer for black-tie dinners, red-carpet events, and galas,” Smith says. “But this particular event just felt so special, and I felt like … I need to show up on the red carpet wearing LaQuan Smith!” So he designed his own suit, even though that’s not something he specializes in. And then, he designed one for Lenny Kravitz too.
Kravitz was honored at the CFDAs with the Fashion Icon Award. He had approached Smith about the idea of a custom suit months prior. “Working with Lenny Kravitz gave me the motivation and the inspiration to dive into menswear, and I’m really excited about that portion of my career,” Smith says.
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Like Kardashian’s gown, Kravitz’s double-breasted wool suit blazer also featured cutouts at the hips—a sexy LaQuan signature. Smith also designed him a pair of tight flared leather pants. Kravitz accessorized with a black ostrich feather boa, as all fashion icons should.
If Kardashian’s LaQuan look was sexy, and Kravitz’s LaQuan look was sexy, then LaQuan’s very own LaQuan look was also, of course, supremely sexy. Maybe even the sexiest of all three, probably because no one does LaQuan Smith better than the designer himself. “It’s just very me,” he says of his gray tropical wool three-piece suit. “It’s very LaQuan.”
The silhouette was ’70s inspired with a fitted blazer, high-waisted bell-bottoms, and a sheer pussy bow blouse, opened all the way to Smith’s belly button, worn with a necklace that cascaded down his chest.
But back to fashion prom. If Kravitz and Kardashian were dressed to be crowned king and queen, then Smith looked more like the too-cool kid who had walked into prom halfway through (Oh, this was today?). You know the one—so assured of himself and his style, you feel a tinge of jealousy looking at him, knowing his prom photos are going to age well (a sensation most of us former prom attendees have never experienced).
The timelessness, he says, was deliberate. “I want to be able to look at these photos when I’m 40 years old! When I’m 50 years old! And be able to share these moments in time with my family and not have one of those crazy fashion moments where it’s like, ‘Oh, shit! I wish I had never worn that.’”
At Smith’s fashion shows, fans often whisper about who exactly will be wearing the clothing (his spring 2023 collection featured a purple-sequined thong worn under a completely sheer asymmetrical gown). But what people should really be asking is how to get an invite to whatever party the LaQuan Smith customer is heading to. Aside from Kravitz and every Kardashian/Jenner, Smith also fields phone calls from the likes of Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, and Rihanna.
It helps that while his clothes have a party reputation that speaks to his star-studded clientele, Smith never seems like he’s too cool for school. When he found out he was nominated for the CFDA Award, he was walking his dog in the low-key Queens neighborhood where he lives. He admits to experiencing social anxiety ahead of the award show and says he felt honored to be in the room.
In the end, while he didn’t win the award (it went to Catherine Holstein of Khaite), Smith still brought his signature sexiness to the red carpet in a way that was as much a first for him as the nomination itself. And honestly, that feels more LaQuan Smith than any award could ever be.
This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US.