Archive for the ‘Sociology of Fashion’ Category

The Perfecto and Beyond

September 11th, 2013 5:30 pm

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.

vintage Schott Perfecto jacket

As chronicled in a recent article on, 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.

Marlon Brando from The Wild One & a contemporary interpretation by designer Rick Owens

the classic Perfecto & and the Ralph Lauren biker jacket

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 Factory today

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.

Johnny Depp and The Ramones: dedicated fans

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.

interpretations by Balenciaga (top) and Rodarte (bottom)

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.

avant garde female version by designer Rick Owens

Cute Overload: Japanese Kawaii Style

June 24th, 2013 10:00 am

Japanese street style is known for pushing the boundaries of what fashion can express. The fantastical, fairytale costumes sported by Japanese youth also have quickly been adapted by appreciative Western kids. Though not exactly new, Japanese kawaii style is definitely such an attention-grabber.

In modern Japanese, the word kawaii means ‘cute,’ ‘adorable,’ or ‘loveable.’ However, in the context of Japanese street fashion, its look is a Manga, candy shop and dollhouse mash-up.

This year’s Hyper Japan 2013 convention at Earls Court in London (from July 26-28) will feature a kawaii fashion parade and competition.

According to the Hyper Japan website, the kawaii ethos is channeled through many different variations: Sweet and Classic Lolita fashion, Wa- Lolita, Kawaii Kimono style, Gal, Pop-Kei (including fairy-kei), and Pastel Goth (a look often showcased by You Tube mega star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu). Though many of these categories are a bit abstract or get lost in translation, there is sure to be an abundance of all things frilly and cute.

One fan of kawaii says that this style of dressing is, in part, a reaction against the mature, glamorous sexuality of mainstream fashion. Scarlett Young (a previous winner of the Hyper Japan competition) says,“The detail on the clothes is amazing. We have teddy bears stuck in our hair, bows on our heads and colourful wigs and I have a hat with Sylvanian Families characters stuck on to it.” Her friend adds, “Passers-by always smile, whether they like the style or not, so it’s got to be a good thing.”

A fashion show and competition for Cosplay style – another fascinating subculture — will also be featured at the Hyper Japan event.

Rebellious Carnival Costumes

June 4th, 2013 10:00 am

The very cool website Public Domain Review published these illustrations from a 16th century manuscript detailing the phenomenon of Nuremberg’s Schembart Carnival. Literally translated as “bearded-mask” carnival, the event was popular from 1449 to 1539. It ended because of the complaints of the influential preacher Osiander, who was offended by parodies of him included in the parades.

**BTW: those are not artichokes being carried by revelers. They are bunches of leaves – called Lebensrute—that hid fireworks.

Legend has it that the carnival had its roots in a dance (a “Zämertanz”), which the butchers of Nuremberg were permitted to hold by the Emperor as a reward for their loyalty to him during an earlier trade guild rebellion. Over the years the event grew more subversive in nature, with participants wearing elaborate costumes and riding through the streets on floats called “Hells”.  After the carnival’s end, many lovely illustrated manuscripts known as “Schembartbücher” were created to document the ceremony’s 90-year existence.

To see more illustrations, visit the Public Domain Review.


© Anne Kroul, 2013.