From the Skies, Roads and Catwalks

From the Skies, Roads and Catwalks

“The weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to race to you”, sang Pratt & McClain. It was a hit that defined an era, and a refrain that no one will ever forget, timeless Happy Days. In the hustle and bustle of seasonal trends, some garments, protagonists of the contemporary costume history, hardly lose their place of honor. Leather jacket is one of these.

Its invention is attributed to Manfred von Richthofen, the heroic German aviator known as the Red Baron. The first flying jacket was born during the first big war. But even if the inspiration came originally from the sky, it was truly the road that gave the jacket the imprint we know.

In the late 20s in America, a leather craftsman named Irving Schott decided to shorten the body of the flying jacket and to equip it with a zipper – three to be precise – and a belt: perfect for darting on a motorcycle. Its name, Perfecto, such as Schott’s favorite cigars. From the 40s the basic black jacket was acclaimed by sex symbols, the Hollywood stars: Marlon Brando, who wears it in the cult movie The Wild One, and James Dean. In the common imagination the leather jacket started to be associated to the idea of strong and unconventional masculinity.

With the years of protests and Flower Power, the leather jacket was properly placed in a wardrobe, but at the end of the 70s the musical Grease, set in a 50s American high school, dusted off the memory of this item.

The first who adopted the leather jacket as a uniform of irreverence were the musicians. Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Ramones and Sex Pistols, whose leader, Malcolm McLaren, with his superlative girlfriend, opened a store that became the symbol of fetish-oriented punk fashion in London. The shop was named Sex in the King’s Road and that girl was Vivienne Westwood.

The trend of leather jacket became a global phenomenon. In New York, Andy Warhol let his artist friends customize a jacket with decorations, symbols, designs and unique embroideries. Michael Jackson chose it for Thriller, while Madonna matched it on a stunning evening dress to accompany her husband Sean Penn at the premiere of his latest film. It appeared on red carpets as well as on catwalks. Mugler, Versace and Anna Sui reinvented the mythic item with studs, sequins and big zipper pullers.

But as always, history is made of twists and turns, and during the 90s the jacket came out the flow, fashion was looking elsewhere, to the Japanese minimalism and the squared aesthetics. But after the style recess at the change of the millennium, it returns on the spotlight. Shortened, studded, metallic, in crocodile leather. A revisitation of the 80s style. Certainly, if at the beginning leather jacket was in itself a symbol of independence and social freedom for body and mind, now it has become a wardrobe topic, which has retained only the superior layer of the mask of a rebel, only a hint of the true spirit icon.

Antonio Moscogiuri