Road warriors, rebels & rock stars: 100 years of the leather jacket
"'James Gang Rides Again' was their most successful record, and on the cover is the band on these choppers and there's Joe Walsh with a thousand-yard stare wearing a classically-styled leather jacket," he said.
Undeniably, it's a powerful, gritty black-and-white image. No one can doubt that these leather-clad musicians atop their bikes on a snow-dusted road are not just pawns of a fad. They are manipulating the fad; they're making it their own.
Musicians speak through their music, said Kramer, but they also speak through their costume choice.
"The performers adopted these visual identities and youth culture going back to the '50s, and in particular the motorcycle is an expression of individuality," said Kramer. "The guys who wore leather jackets first were pilots. They were tough guys. To risk your life by getting into something suspended from the sky? That got translated into getting onto a motorcycle on the ground."
And, of course, into stepping onto a stage with a guitar.
The Religion of the Leather Jacket
Deborah Nadoolman Landis has created costumes for actors and musicians for decades, and she knows as well as Kramer the power of a leather-clad rocker. In creating looks like Michael Jackson's "Thriller" red leather jacket and Indiana Jones' signature style, Landis had the task of conveying a character's personality through his clothing.
"We're not trying to design for characters in a movie. We're trying to make them people," she said. "So how do you make Indiana Jones a believable and unique person?
"He's heroic and he's extremely vulnerable and extremely fallible, he's kind, he's lovable – so all of this essence is somehow embodied by his clothes and his jacket and hat. And when people leave the movie theater, they want to be him. They want to encompass all these wonderful, alluring parts of that character on that screen."
The same goes for Michael Jackson.
"We had to think – what would be appropriate for Michael to wear dancing in a dark street surrounded by ghouls?" she laughed. "You put on that jacket and you feel like you can dance."
Landis knows the language of clothing, and the power a certain piece – like a leather jacket – has to convey spirit its wearer.
"Everything that we're wearing right this second is here for a reason," she said. "It's a choice we made and it has a story. There are stories all about your shoes – where you got them, how much they were, who you were with, how long you've had them … your pants, your jacket, everything you're wearing has these stories and that's part of our narrative. The people in the movies are no different from us."
Indiana Jones without his leather jacket is like Samson without his hair. And Landis says there's a good reason for that.
"You had to believe, and we were asking the audience to believe, that even if his closet was ginormous and he could've worn anything that he would have gone back to that piece of clothing," she said. "These leather jackets are designed for these characters to express vulnerability, to express warmth, humanity. They're incredibly sensual, they drape – it's just like putting on something of your own self."
Landis agrees with Davidson that the leather jacket allows people not to become followers of a trend, but rather participants in it.
"I just came from ComicCon, where I saw 50 Indiana Joneses, including a father and son from China. I've seen Indiana Joneses from Peru, Indiana Joneses who are 5 years old, who are 50, who are 90," she said. "Those people who become him – it's about becoming. It's like a religion, isn't it? It's about transformation. You put something on and then you embody it. And leather jackets really have that kind of elixir."
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