Worn to be wild

21st May 2020

Immortalised by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the black leather biker jacket is a sartorial staple that transcends the vagaries of fashion. Wear one this season to express your inner rebel. 

Words by Josh Sims

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It is, perhaps, the last remaining item of clothing to retain a hint of rebellion. Firstly, there’s black leather’s mild connotations of thuggishness or fetishism. Then there’s the fact that, since the 1940s, bikers have been branded by the media and respectable folk as outlaws. And let’s not forget that they’ve been donned by every rocker worth their salt, from The Ramones and The Clash to, well, more would-be rockers, such as George Michael or Bros. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the leather biker jacket has long been the go-to garment for every urban cowboy and wannabe outsider.

The definitive form of this style is the Perfecto, as worn by Marlon Brando in The Wild One – first devised by Irving Schott, at the request of a Long Island Harley-Davidson dealership, way back in 1913. Schott NYC still manufactures biker jackets, while collectors seek out alternative vintage versions from the likes of Buco, Grais, and Blatt. But despite being more than a century old, the biker jacket just keeps on cruising the style highway. Designer Hedi Slimane has championed the jacket at Saint Laurent and now Celine – and is often to be seen wearing one – while Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and McQueen have also produced luxe versions of the form that will set you back considerably more than a motorbike.

Part of this longevity is down to the sheer utility of the designs – still impressive, still graphic: that distinctive collar, sitting sweet or turned up for extra attitude; the asymmetric zip fastening and zip-up cuffs; the change pocket and D-pocket, perfectly positioned for access while riding; the belt, providing that broad-shouldered, trim-waisted silhouette. Part of it is also down to the iconography the jacket has accrued by association over the years: all the bands and the badasses, the greasers and the “one percenters”; even, thanks to The Terminator, the occasional android. 

Indeed, as fashionable as the biker jacket may continue to be (for women, too, this season), its ultimate appeal is that it is beyond fashion.

But, more than this, the biker jacket’s appeal is really in the wearing. Not just in the instant edginess it provides, but – especially after it’s been slipped on over and over again, rain or shine – in the way it cocoons and protects the wearer in an almost primeval way. The biker jacket becomes that second skin, the last line of defence between its wearer and the outside world. It makes its wearer look like a superhero, or a supervillain. 

Indeed, as fashionable as the biker jacket may continue to be (for women, too, this season), its ultimate appeal is that it is beyond fashion. Rather, the biker jacket is the jacket of the rugged individualist, the non-conformist – a sartorial passport to your very own walk on the wild side. 

This story was taken from the spring issue of Goodwood Magazine.

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