beyond rebellion: fashioning the biker jacket


Yves Saint Laurent (Stefano Pilati), jumpsuit, black leather, Fall 2009, France. Gift of Yves Saint Laurent

A new exhibition opening at The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology this week traces the genesis of the biker jacket. From its beginnings in the early twentieth century as a rather utilitarian piece, designed to protect motorcycle riders from the elements, to a symbol of rebellion and, ultimately a high-fashion staple.

Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket, on view for one month, opens with a Perfecto jacket, a functional piece introduced by the American outerwear label, Schott in 1928. The jacket, with its durable black leather horsehide, exposed zippers, metal snaps and asymmetrical front closure had, by the 1950s transformed into an emblem of the rebel outlaw – helped along by such era-defining movies of the time as The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. FIT’s exhibit goes on to show how the Perfecto’s iconic design influenced fashion designers, exemplified by a 2009 Yves Saint Laurent jumpsuit (pictured above) that integrated the classic design elements of the biker jacket.


Left: Comme des Garcons (Rei Kawakubo), jacket and shirt, black leather, pink gingham and tulle, Spring 2005, Japan. Museum Purchase / Right: Jean Paul Gaultier, jacket, black leather, faux fur, suede and gray wool, 1987, France. Gift of Anne M. Zartarian

The exhibition goes on to trace the evolution of the jacket, from Jean Paul Gaultier’s 1987 punk-inspired jacket with metal spikes on each elbow and armour-esque stitching on the shoulders, to avant- garde reinterpretations such as a 2005 Comme de Garcons ensemble from the Biker + Ballerina collection that pairs a masculine black leather jacket with a feminine pink gingham and tulle skirt.

Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket is on view at The Museum at F.I.T. in NYC from March 4 – April 5, 2014.

Words/ Karen Gardiner

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