Organized by graduate students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice program, the exhibition explores the genesis of the biker jacket and its evolution into a high-fashion garment. Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket 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 are featured.
The biker jacket emerged in the early 20th century as a protective garment to shield motorcycle riders from the elements. Over the years, the mystique of the motorcycle jacket has attracted not only bikers, but movie stars, young adults, and fashion designers.
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 the asymmetrical front and exposed zippers.
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.
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 Garçons ensemble from the bikerballerina collection juxtaposes a sculptural masculine black leather jacket with a girlish pink gingham and tulle skirt. While this 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.
Fashion Institute of Technology
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