Worn by musicians and movie stars, bikies and punks, supermodels and subversives… no other item of clothing has ever come close to capturing the cool-factor of a leather jacket. Timeless, they are edgy in every era and always iconic - on screen, on stage, or simply on the street.
This ever-lasting appeal means we can still appreciate the smouldering, leather-clad Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, almost 70 years later. Not only was that movie the original outlaw biker film, it helped inspire a craze for sideburns, Triumph motorcycles - and the ultimate leather jacket kudos. Being banned by the British Board of Film Censors for fourteen years no doubt just added to its allure.
Childhoods filled with iconic leather jackets, from Elvis on the record player and fleeting images of his leather-clad sneer, to John Travolta’s Danny Zuko in Grease played on repeat on the VHS. And of course, the ultimate makeover for Olivia Newton John from sugar-sweet Sandy to bad-girl hard-ass in black biker jacket and (poorly smoked) cigarette…
(A scene that was also inspirational for rebellious curly hair girls, but that’s another conversation.)
Planting the seed of biker-jacket rebellion with Marlon Brando, James Dean and Steve McQueen was just the beginning. As we matured, the leather jacket style did too; Jim Morrison, The Ramones, David Bowie (his Heros phase), Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and Suzi Quatro. The 80s gave us another dimension with clean-cut rebel Maverick in Top Gun, Michael Jackson’s distinctive red jackets in Thriller and Beat It, George Michael’s overtly sexual Faith, and even the rugged rebirth of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
By then there was an iconic leather jacket somewhere in popular culture that any of us could relate to, aspire to, and wistfully add to your Christmas list. If you were very lucky, and your parents were super-cool (or rich) you might get a pleather version in your teens. And there was always a cool guy around town who had the confidence to strut around in the real deal, usually a few years older and elusively outside your social circle. Maybe in a band, maybe with a motorbike. Either way, we knew that leather jacket would feel good draped around our shoulders.
In young adulthood years, acquiring a leather jacket was almost a ritual in independence. It was more than just an item in your wardrobe; it was a real investment both financially and in terms of owning your own style. It could be worn with anything, anywhere, anytime. That was the point. Out to the pubs and gigs and clubs, then picked up off your (or someone else’s) bedroom floor and worn to your family afternoon tea. Never needed washing. Looked better the more you wore it. Zero maintenance.
Eventually we might upgrade to a more grown up version. A designer style, a wardrobe staple or ‘investment piece’. Parisian fashion editors and style influencers show us how crucial a leather jacket is to the perfect capsule wardrobe, to add a casual edge to classic, cultivated style. We are just happy to be told buying a leather jacket can still be justified as a proper-grown-up. We are still cool.
But these are the reasons we find it hard to part with leather jackets, even when the style, shape or fit no longer serves us. (It’s not just that it’s difficult to part with something that cost half a year’s wages 20 years ago.) There is something inherently magical about them, how they can merge the past and the present all at the same time. It’s more than a piece of clothing we used to wear, it is a keeper of previous lives and phases and memories that we cannot part with. It’s the song where we know every lyric.
Eventually leather jackets find their way to thrift stores, imbued with layers of stories accumulated over time. And that is where we find them. We rescue them and breathe new life into these pieces that are timeless, but no longer worn. We appreciate their strength and resilience, we respect and retain their vintage quirks - and we create something contemporary, useful and beautiful.
We make Metanoia bags – the rebirth of cool.