Worn to be Wild: EMP dons leather for new exhibitionon October 18, 2012 @ 1:22 pm (Updated: 9:03 am - 10/19/12 )
"The leather jacket was originally utilitarian, to protect you from the elements on your motorcycle or bomber in World War II," says Jacob McMurray, Senior Curator. "You know as time goes on, as we go into the 50's especially, the biker jacket gets really adhered to this idea of rebellion, especially with say Marlon Brando and 'The Wild One,' this idea the black leather jacket is for the bad boys and girls."
McMurray says the exhibition, produced in partnership with the Harley-Davidson Museum, features dozens of jackets from the first one made by Harley-Davidson in 1929, to iconic leatherwear worn by stars ranging from Elvis Presley to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But it's the artwork adorning many of the jackets that really inspired McMurray. Among them, a collection of painted leather jackets adorned with studs from Seattle's punk rock heyday.
"You know those jackets were definitely designed by their wearers to speak a certain language to communicate with other people of their own tribe and sort of scare people that weren't part of that time."
Far before that, though, the leather jacket was ornately painted by biker gangs and bomber crews. McMurray says the exhibition includes some notable examples of both.
"You know, we've got some really beautiful bomber jackets from World War II showing like the pinup girls painted on the backs with the number of bombing runs that they made or the number of kills etc. They're just beautiful pieces of art."
Over the years the fashion world would embrace the leather jacket as well, where it became a staple of collections in New York, Paris, and Milan. The exhibition features works of noted designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Gianni Versace, and others.
"Everything that was put on display was very definitely picked to focus on those key aspects of the leather jacket like the angle, the sleeves, the zippers, the button down lapels, everything that functionally came along with the biker jacket but now has become aesthetically linked to that piece," McMurray says.
While he's excited about the entire exhibition, McMurray says he's most taken with a leather jacket worn by Elvis in the early 60's along with his 1956 Harley-Davidson, the punk rock leather jackets culled from the Seattle scene, one worn by actor Harry Shearer in the cult classic film "This is Spinal Tap," and a full leather outfit from Arnold Schwarzenneger from Terminator 2.
"Worn to Be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket" opens Saturday, Oct. 20 at EMP Museum.
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