“Worn to be Wild”: Road tested, runway ready
From practical beginnings to fashion icon, the history of the leather jacket is on display at Harley-Davidson Museum's "Worn to be Wild."
Great art evokes emotion. It’s an amazing thing to look at an inanimate object and instantly be overcome with pride, flooded with memories, or even filled with awe.
This is precisely what happened during my sneak peak of “Worn to be Wild” at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Curatorial Director Jim Fricke explained that the exhibit was set up in three parts—history, the rebel period, and fashion forward. The exhibitors had painstakingly collected amazing jackets from the early 1900’s to now. Each jacket was meticulously placed in hand-crafted, custom-built display cases.
The history of the leather jacket begins not as the fashion accessory you may envision—with all the buckles, zippers and metal grommets—but as a much simpler overcoat-type version. In the early 1900’s, cars were open to the elements and before World War I, the black leather jacket and motorcycles had not yet joined forces. It was still simply the automobile driver’s protection. With war and flight and faster speeds, the black leather jacket and the brown bomber jacket were worn by those risktakers.
The Antihero’s Anti-Sport coat
Moving to mid-century, the protective stylings give way to personalized embellishments. The jacket was no longer for practical use alone. Teen heartthrobs (and parental nightmares) like Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley began donning these jackets, and suddenly this symbol of patriotism and all things American sent panic and outrage at the hoodlums who dared to wear it. Parents were nervous and their kids were intrigued at the new sensation created not only by those who strutted around in one, but by the jacket itself.
As I turned the corner I was treated to an entire wall of album covers filled with those who had the guts to taunt society in their finest leather. Clearly, I had landed amidst some of my favorite 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop, rock and metal stars. From Rick James to Debbie Gibson and even Judas Priest, I was truly surprised how much of a music icon the black leather jacket has become. The actual jackets in this section include those worn by singers from Michael Jackson to Fergie. There are some movie and TV legends here also with full Terminator costumes, Spinal Tap, and a jacket worn by Hugh Laurie on House. I was really hoping to see the Fonz’s jacket, but apparently the Smithsonian doesn’t like to share (yes, his jacket is THAT important).
While rock stars were using leather as their mainstay attire, teens in both the U.S. and U.K. in the punk scene were making their mark on leather jackets. The exhibit has some of most creative leather goods from that era, all hand-painted and adorned with metal spikes, grommets, studs and patches.
Ready for the Runway
“The biker jacket has made the move from the required protective gear for the motorcyclist to the must-have jacket of choice for the chic.”
This banner welcomes you to the last part of the exhibit where works from designers like Versace and Dsquared2 are displayed with six runway-ready looks by French haute couture fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Some of the jackets and outfits were so rare and precious, Jim handled them with white gloves and tenderness. Seeing just bits and pieces of Gaultier’s personally prepared outfits, this part of the exhibit alone is worth a return visit.
See photographer Lacy Landre’s photos below, or click here to view the full set on flickr.