What would we do without the leather biker jacket? Worn by everyone from James Dean to Johnny Depp, a leather biker jacket has become the universal symbol of rebellious cool. It automatically gives your look an edge, instantly lends an outfit that casual but slick air of counter-cultural savvy.
And so, to tie in with our web shop’s debut of Anna’s fabulous luxe leather jacket, we thought we’d celebrate the one-year anniversary of the original Perfecto leather biker jacket!
Like blue jeans, the leather biker jacket is a classic American garment that has been embraced worldwide. It has been reinterpreted by almost every major fashion designer. But the iconic leather biker jacket as we know it came about through the experimentations of clothing manufacturer Irving Schott in the early twentieth century.
As chronicled in a recent article on Vice.com, Irving Schott started out as a patternmaker for clothing manufacturers in the early 1900s. He and his brother opened Schott Bros. factory in 1913 in a tenement basement in Manhanttan’s Lower East Side. Their first successful products were sheepskin-lined raincoats. Now known as Schott NYC, the brothers’ company celebrates its centennial this year, and the company has become synonymous with Irving Schott’s iconic biker jacket design called the Perfecto.
Back when Irving started experimenting with biker jacket designs, motorcycles had only become commercially available quite recently. However, a friend of Irving’s was a member of the Beck family, the largest Harley-Davidson distributors in the country. In 1920, Schott Bros. began manufacturing outerwear for the Beck catalogue, available at many motorcycle dealerships. These designs for Beck included early versions of what would become the modern motorcycle jacket.
The Schott-designed leather jacket was the first piece of outerwear that was rugged enough for motorcycle riders. The leather protected the rider from biting winds at high speeds. Schott’s jacket also worked with the rider’s hunched posture with arms extended to the handlebars. Further, Schott’s use of zippers on his biker jacket was revolutionary.
Invented in 1913, modern zippers were initially too expensive for clothing manufacturers to utilise. However, during World War I, the US military’s widespread use of zippers in garments and equipment helped to drive the cost of zippers down. Sensing the potential of this new technology, Irving took a chance and put a zipper on a jacket in 1925.
After a series of initial designs, Irving debuted what is now recognised as the definitive motorcycle jacket in 1928 — including the diagonal zipper closure. The angle of the zipper was a crucial feature in blocking the wind and ensuring that the jacket didn’t bunch up when the rider was seated. This first design was created for Beck under the Perfecto brand. It was made of horsehide and sold for $5.50.
Back in those first days, the motorcycle jacket was quite an oddity—designed almost entirely for utility over style. Decades later, thanks to Marlon Brando’s film The Wild One (1953), the tight-fitting Schott Perfecto biker jacket developed a whole new mythology.