FIT Present – Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket

The Museum at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology) presents Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket, organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies program at The Fashion Institute of Technology, explores the genesis of the biker jacket and its evolution into a high-fashion garment.  The exhibition traces the rise of the black leather jacket from utilitarian outerwear to iconic symbol of rebellion, function, and “cool.” Clothing from leading labels such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, and Rick Owens is featured.

Schott, Perfecto jacket, black leather, circa 1980, USA. Museum purchase, P89.29.1.
Schott, Perfecto jacket, black leather, circa 1980, USA. Museum purchase, P89.29.1.

The biker jacket emerged in the early twentieth century as a protective garment to shield motorcycle riders from the elements. Over the years, the mystique of the motorcycle jacket has attracted bikers, but also movie stars, young adults, and fashion designers.

Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo) jacket and skirt Black leather, pink gingham and tulle, spring 2005, Japan, 2005.49.1
Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo) jacket and skirt
Black leather, pink gingham and tulle, spring 2005, Japan, 2005.49.1

The exhibition opens with a Perfecto jacket by the American outerwear company, Schott. The Perfecto style, introduced by Irving Schott in 1928, featured durable black leather horsehide, exposed zippers, metal snaps, and an asymmetrical front closure. By the 1950s, due in part to its appropriation by motorcycle gangs—associations fostered by movies such as The Wild One— the jacket had become an emblem of the outlaw biker. Other objects in this introductory section will show how the Perfecto’s iconic classic design and early history influenced fashion designers. This is exemplified by a 2009 Yves Saint Laurent jumpsuit that integrates characteristic design elements of the biker jacket, such as an asymmetrical front and exposed zipper.

Yves Saint Laurent (Stefano Pilati) jumpsuit Black leather, fall 2009, France, gift of Yves Saint Laurent, 2010.90.1
Yves Saint Laurent (Stefano Pilati) jumpsuit
Black leather, fall 2009, France, gift of Yves Saint Laurent, 2010.90.1

The exhibition’s second section includes work by fashion designers inspired by the countercultural groups that adopted the biker jacket as an expression of social defiance. Punks and leathermen utilized design details such as metal embellishments and construction that exposed or exaggerated the body as a marker to stand out from the rest of society. Featured is a high-end jacket by Jean Paul Gaultier that incorporates a metal spike on each elbow and stitching details on the shoulders that recall armor and exaggerate the size of the upper body

Jean Paul Gaultier jacket Black leather, faux fur, suede, and grey wool, 1987, France, gift of Anne M. Zartarian, 2000.23.10
Jean Paul Gaultier jacket
Black leather, faux fur, suede, and grey wool, 1987, France, gift of Anne M. Zartarian, 2000.23.10

The final section explores avant-garde reinterpretations of the classic biker jacket that push the boundaries of its original symbolism and design. A 2005 Comme des Garcons ensemble from the Biker + Ballerina collection juxtaposes a sculptural masculine black leather jacket with a girlish pink gingham and tulle skirt. While the “Biker Ballerina” ensemble and the Perfecto jacket of the 1950s serve very different functions and appeal to different consumers, the allure and mystique of the jacket remains. The exhibition is currently on view now thru April 5, 2014 Online exhibition website

6 comments

  1. I just stumbled upon this post, and I enjoyed myself so much seeing all these versions of the biker jacket ! I have always been a fan of this type of jacket, so I’m always on the hunt for new inspirations, It’s funny because I just posted about a woolen, knitted version of the biker jacket this morning – here : – http://www.manigazer.com/home/whats-my-name-again -.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about it ! Have an amazing day.

    xx, Iman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s