What do James Dean, Albert Einstein and a WW1 German Fighter Pilot have in common?
The beginnings of a bad joke? Or just three names from an infinitely long list of iconic leather jacket wearers. Is there a club quite so eclectic as that of the Leather Jacket?
It seems futile to dissect the casual allure of the Leather Jacket; perhaps some questions are best left unanswered, but that won’t stop us taking a brief look at how the cultural icon came to be.
It’s hard not to be struck by the overwhelming influence military uniforms have had on modern style. Whilst, of course, man has been donning the tanned hides of animals since time immemorial, the leather coat is first attributed to the fighter pilots of WW1. The hard wearing benefits of the fabric are obvious and early incarnations feature button and belt closures and a longer fit. At much the same time, British and American fighter pilots were sporting their own versions, the shorter and instantly recognisable A1 Bomber, shortly followed by it’s zip-up counter-part the A-2.
1928 was the turning point for the jacket in civilian use, solidifying the garments’ place in history. Enter Irving Schott, a raincoat maker. Designing for Harley Davidson, Schott produced the first leather motorcycle jacket with a zipper. He named it the ‘Perfecto’, after his favourite cigar brand. This important new silver feature, with its asymmetric positioning, also allowed motorcyclists to lean over their bikes without cutting into the body. The original jacket featured a cropped, snug fit, with a D-pocket and lapels designed to snap down or fold over each other and zip all the way up. Perhaps there is no finer meeting of function and fashion. The jacket was an instant hit.
Come WW2 the jacket was a staple for both military and civilian purposes. Manufacturers experimented with various hides and linings both for aesthetic and functional purposes. It is here we start to see some of the most iconic military styles evolve - think Maverick’s G-1 jacket in Top Gun. But war had had it’s fun and in it’s wake an anti-war creative freedom ruled. The first on screen ‘Perfecto’ sighting came from Marlon Brando in The Wild One. James Dean quickly followed suit in Rebel Without A Cause and by the time Steve McQueen was involved, the trinity was complete and the world was powerless to resist.
From the 60’s onwards, Rock N Roll took the casual, rebellious spirit of the leather jacket by the horns. The Beatles, Duran Duran, The Ramones, Blondie - it’s difficult to imagine many of history’s sub-culture tribes without a leather jacket slung casually over their shoulders.
“When you look at the jacket, you can register emotions about the person wearing it. Whether you are trying it on yourself or looking at somebody trying it on, you look like a badass. It’s something that has been reinforced over generations. It’s so identifiably tough a jacket.” - Jason Schott
As is so unfortunately often the way, the true craftsmanship of the leather jacket is all but lost, but store favourites Aero Leather are still flying the flag with arguably the most impressive collection of vintage originals out there. We offer a full made to measure service at the store. You’ll have access to Aero’s full collection of silhouettes, leathers, zippers and linings. Having stocked them for close to 4 years we have plenty of experience to guide you on your way whether you’re feeling classic, rebellious… or just cold! Aero Leathers’ production process means your jacket will be created, from start to finish, by one machinist. The end results are astonishing - a true testament to the skills and passions of the company. Turn around time ranges from 4 - 8 weeks so with Winter just around the corner, now would be a sensible time to get your order in!
Swing past for a coffee and come talk leather with us!