Worn To be Wild

Worn to be Wild

-Reporting by Betsy Alee

October 3, 2014-January 4, 2015, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA hosts the exhibit, “Worn To Be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket.”

Certain objects and images reflect the character of the era, inspiring people to listen to the human story. Think of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa of the Renaissance or the Tricorn hat of the Colonial period. In modern times, the black leather jacket is an icon of similar significance. These sleek and showy hides draw eyes and envy. Born on the backs of aviators and brought down to earth by the stainless steel of motorcycles, leather jackets outgrew the industrial age and entered the realm of high fashion. From the jacket’s hardly humble beginnings, generations have witnessed a spectrum of reality and fantasy. At the Chrysler Museum, individual lenders have contributed pieces that showcase the versatility and allure of this wardrobe staple.  A reflective journey through time begins at the entrance to the exhibit, detailing the leather jacket’s unique history.

Visitors first glimpse a display of leather jackets from the early 1900’s, a time when utility battled style. A knee length coat belted at the waist greets patrons and evokes the image of a soldier outfitted to ride in an open sidecar. These early coats had simple lines and promised relative protection from the elements as the new century’s vehicles and flying machines propelled people higher and faster. By the 1940’s, leather jackets were primarily designed to meet the needs of  bikers. Shorter jacket lengths were more practical and black was the “in” color. The “D” pocket, a large pocket on the front of the jacket that allowed easy access to maps, keys, or more nefarious items, became a common design feature. Likewise, adjustable collars and pitched sleeves provided for an optimal bike riding position. Several examples of these gnarly jackets hang in a row, chronicling the garment’s evolving style as it proliferated to fit the general public’s clothing needs. Throughout the 1950s and 60s the jacket achieved full swagger status with the help of entertainment industry studs like Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen. The collection even includes a 1956 Harley-Davidson Model KH owned by Elvis Presley. Elvis and this motorcycle were featured on the May 1956 cover of The Enthusiast Magazine for Motorcyclists, cementing the relationship between the leather jacket and timeless style.

The black leather jacket is clearly a canvas for creativity that fits a person of any persuasion. A look at the jackets of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, as well as today’s leather selection reveals colorful personalities and bravado. The look suits the courageous and cool, rock stars and runways, law enforcement and outlaws, moody anarchists as well as settled suburbanites. Likewise, the visible paint, buttons, patches, rhinestones and studs that adorn the jackets in the collection hint at the efforts leather connoisseurs make to customize their outfit.

Careful listeners will enjoy additional entertainment when they register the anecdotes of patrons passing through the exhibit. This reviewer overheard several tales, including one man’s story about an uncle who had sewn rabbit fur lining into his leather jacket. In another overheard tale, a young man told his friend about his first leather jacket, a souvenir purchased at a bazaar in Turkey. Leather jackets are uniquely adapted vessels contributing to personal expression and the creation of lasting memories.

The exhibit concludes in a separate room with a Pièce de résistance for anyone interest in history: the WWII jacket of General Douglas MacArthur, Commander In Chief Far East. Curious how you’d look dressed in leather? Whimsical interaction with selected jackets is permitted. Patrons can don samples and pose on a Harley-Davidson. Bridging the past with the future, an iPad is situated off to the side, allowing visitors to snap pictures and immediately post their proud leather-clad moment to social media. The inclusion of technology offers a clever portal into the museum’s treasures, spreading the word to all leather aficionados, grab your gang and get the bikes! “Worn to be Wild,” offers an excellent perspective of a classic style that continues to fascinate every generation. Don’t miss this exhibit. According to The Chrysler Museum of Art website, “this is its last stop on a two-year exhibition tour, and come January 2015, the show will be dismantled, and the objects returned to the lenders.”


Post Photos Courtesy of: http://www.chrysler.org/