It was 1913 when second-generation Russian immigrants Irving and Jack Schott founded Schott NYC . They made raincoats back then, working out of their basement factory in the Lower East Side, Manhattan and selling the finished products door to door. Fifteen years later in 1928, Irving designed an entirely new type of coat intended for warmth, protection, and comfort for motorcycle riding. The Schott PerfectoINamed after Irving’s preferred brand of cigars leather biker jacket was born. So undeniably iconic it shares rare status with the blue jean and the Tee.
Sold through a Harley Davidson distributor in Long Island, New York, the Perfecto had a belted waist for a secure fit, an asymmetrical front closure and, as Schott claims, was the first jacket to use zippers rather than buttons for closure. The design has been lightly tweaked in the century since, but only lightly.
Flight leather jackets had been around prior to this, but never in the modern biker style. Flight predecessors initially came out of DIYIIDo It Yourself custom creation. Later during World War I the French and Belgians issued official flight jackets for military deployment. The U.S. Army established “the Aviation Clothing Board” in September 1917. After years of specification the army introduced Type A-1 for military in 1927. Rather than a zipper in the center, though, the jacket used buttons, as was the standard at the time.
With Schott’s introduction of the Perfecto in 1928 opening the door to zipper-front jackets, the A-1 evolved into the now-iconic A-2 jacket, with a zip front and point collar, in 1931.
Schott contributed their own designs to the US Military in World War II, when they were commissioned by the Air Force to create an exceptionally warm jacket for bombing crews flying in B-17 and B-24s. In response Schott created the B-3 jacket, “heavily inspired” by the British R.A.F. bomber raid jacket “The Irvin”. Both feature shearling sheep fur lining, a buckled collar and a full leather construction. Schott also designed a melton wool pea coat, adapted from those worn by the British Royal Navy. The company continued to produce garments for the military for the next 60 years.
A Lucky Strike
Meanwhile, Schott was still producing their biker jackets, to a relatively limited audience. That changed dramatically in 1953 with the premiere of The Wild One, featuring a brutish, effortlessly cool Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler, leader of a California motorcycle gang named the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, in his Schott NYC Perfecto.
The youngsters of America idolised the intimidating, edgy style of Brando and his gang, they flocked to the jackets, causing a massive spike in popularity for the Perfecto. Ironically, though, Schott’s sales quickly dipped during this time as school systems throughout the country banned students from wearing leather jackets, fearful of the gang culture and rebel teen stereotype of which they were emblematic.
Just a year later in September of 1955, James Dean fatally crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder. While Dean never wore a leather jacket in any of his few film roles, he did wear one with a fur collar in his free time, furthering the association with thrill-seeking, rebellious youth culture. His untimely death immortalized the young actor’s rebel style, leather jacket and all.
The jacket’s popularity continued throughout the ’50s, and in 1960 the high fashion world joined the fray. A 24 year-old Yves Saint Laurent, then the head of design for Dior, presented his own take on the style as part of a runway collectionIIIA single-breasted, fur-lined alligator leather women’s jacket with cropped sleeves, though the collection was widely panned by critics of the time. Ironic, considering that the modern-day Saint Laurent makes what is perhaps the fashion world’s most covetable example of the black leather biker jacket todayIVHedi Slimane design by Saint Laurent model L01 and L17.
Thuging & Punking
The jacket continues it’s popular fashion throughout the proceeding decades, taking firm hold in the burgeos punk subculture of the mid-1970s and becoming closely associated with rock music of the time. Motorcycle jackets were practically a mandatory uniform for notable bands and the clientele of the clubs they played in such as; Blondie, Joan Jett, Sex Pistols, Clash and The Ramones, to name a few. The style continued to carry a sense of countercultural, heavy rebellion from more conservative fashion norms.
Countless other modern brands make their own takes on the biker silhouette, from ultra-sleek classic styles to off-the-wall interpretations with bright colors or wild detailing. Burberry Prorsum’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection spawned several biker jackets that are coveted well into the present day, and labels like Acne Studios and The Arrivals have kept the silhouettes modern with a focus on simplicity and decent pricing.
Whether you choose something more contemporary, or simply stick with a classic Schott Perfecto, still made in the USA to almost the exact same specifications of the original design, the style will never cease to be an iconic cornerstone of cool factor. It’s not hyperbole: a great motorcycle jacket is something that no-one should be without.