The Museum at FIT’s New Exhibition

 By Skye An

There’s more to the black leather jacket than just being a signature garment for every biker gang member.

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology showcases a unique study of the motorcycle jacket’s evolution throughout time in its “Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket” exhibit.

The original black leather biker jacket is known as the Perfecto, created by the Schott Brothers. Its creation was requested by a Harley Davidson distributor in 1928 and its overall design was inspired by World War I German aviators. Such design featured exposed asymmetrical zippers, black leather horsehide, belts, epaulettes (which were actually meant to hold gloves when they weren’t being worn) and metal snaps.

With the Perfecto, functionality and fashionability coincided beautifully, causing it to gradually appeal to movie stars and outlaws alike. The anatomy of the black leather jacket is what truly made it unique from other garments.

The black leather jacket  acquired the whole “bad-boy” reputation after World War II. Motorcycle clubs, like Hell’s Angels, who were outlaws trying to break free from the conformity of post-war America, paraded around in these jackets.

Biker gangs subsequently had their fair share of clashes with the authorities and a 1953 film called “The Wild One” solidified the jacket’s rebellious persona. It was a sign of an outlaw biker ever since.

The exhibit combines press clippings, documentary photos, and a collection of original clothing items from the biker jacket era.

Fashion designers have also used the biker jacket as an extension of themselves to express their own defiance in society.

Furthermore, when it comes to fashion, personalization is key. Spikes, metal studs, cut-off sleeves, pins, faux fur, and intricate stitchings were added on to the leather jackets as a result of the on going contemporary movement.

The jacket also became increasingly universal, evidenced by the 2005 Comme des Garcons (Rei Kawakubo), a Japanese styled black leather jacket with an interesting inclusion of a pink tutu, for a more abstract look. A French Jean Paul Gaultier leather jacket also demonstrated additional elements, like faux fur.

In fashion, there are always changes to be made. Things that are currently in fashion now can be instantly replaced by new ideas for garments.

Fashion is rarely a solid foundation to stand upon, but the biker jacket has still prevailed as an iconic garment that is easily recognizable and noticeable. There’s just something about the black leather and its metal accessories that gives it an interesting allure.

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