Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Internet, Joy of New People and Reno!












One of the amazing effects of the bloggosphere is this incredible fortuitous synchronicity where I meet and interact with people across the globe whose only common bond to me is the love of well made leather. Just one such event happened in the last 2 weeks where through the miracle of the web Joe from Reno said Howdoo and sent me pics of his incredible jacket. Joe was the classic hippy of the Haight Asbury days. He bought the jacket on Castro street right from the East West Musical Instruments store. As the "old greybeard" was telling me, he was leaving Reno for Penn. and found his old jacket which hasnt fit in 20 years. I was astounded at its beauty and design and am hoping that Joe will send me some photos and stories of his jackets journey when he gets settled in his new home. He inspired me to go to Reno last week, and damn I had fun playing poker and hiking in the gorgeous mountain air.

I spoke with local Police about their jacket suppliers, and even got to play poker with Ken Shamrock, Ultimate Cage Fighter. Im glad I can say I know where cowboys come from!!!

Monday, April 28, 2008

CRTC and the Throttle Button!

In the continued effort to keep anybody interested informed, I received my response from the CRTC regarding the slowdown of the internet via Bell Canada. I read the documents and I would guess that Bell is looking for money from some of its competitors to expand the networks out there. This is a play with bigger ramifications, lets hope the courts come up with some reasonable solutions that keep the interests of us (the consumers) front and center. Bell screwed up its monopoly for years by offering terrible services and worse prices, they sadly cant be trusted to be the arbitrar of the internet, nor represent the interests of Bell's competition!

Dear Mr. Himel:

Thank you for contacting the CRTC regarding the issue that has become known as "traffic shaping" of the internet. The CRTC is aware of the public debate over this issue and is monitoring its development.

The CRTC does not regulate the retail rates or quality of service provided by Internet service providers (ISPs) to their end customers. I therefore suggest you contact your ISP directly regarding your concerns if you have not already done so.


The CRTC regulates the internet access services that large telecommunication companies such as
Bell, Telus and Rogers provide to independent internet service providers. Your service provider is in the best position to evaluate whether it believes its provider or a competitor is involved in inappropriate behavior, and if so, it can provide the Commission with evidence of any alleged wrongdoing and file a competitive dispute with the Commission. The CRTC cannot deal with customer complaints made on behalf of their internet service provider.

The CRTC has received a formal complaint by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) against Bell Canada requesting that the CRTC order Bell Canada to stop "throttling" the access services Bell Canada provides to CAIP’s members in order to provide high speed internet service to their customers. If you are interested in following the outcome of this application you may do so at the following link:

http://www.crtc.gc.ca/PartVII/eng/2008/8622/c51_200805153.htm

In addition, anti-competitive behavior complaints can be submitted by an ISP to Industry Canada's Competition Bureau, at:

Competition Bureau Industry
Canada
50 Victoria Street
Gatineau, QC K1A 0C9

Tel.: 1-800-348-5358
Website:
http://competitionbureau.gc.ca/epic/site/cb-bc.nsf/Intro

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

China, Reno and Production


I'm on holiday in Reno, Nevada enjoying the cool desert air and the fabulous golf and poker. Happiness is being up at poker! I played with Ken Shamrock, and a host of characters since I have been here. I had a local cop beside me at one table, and to my surprise he wanted to discuss leather jackets! It was an inspirational moment. When I returned to my suite, there was a documentary on China's growing industrial toxicity and how its people are being decimated. Apparently 90% of China's rivers (which are its only water supply) are so toxic as they are deemed dead. There are entire towns and cities where populations have gone from cancer rates of 1 in 100 000 to 1 in every hundred or even higher. It brought home to roost for me why it is more important than ever to support local business and local economies. Look, you can own a reasonably produced cheap jacket with no style for almost free, or your lawn furniture, or that bbq, but in the end all you have done is leveraged the health of men, women and children in the third world. The worst part is the local governments in China ( and probably elsewhere) are complicit in the poisoning of their own people because they own and collect revenues and taxes from these factories, tanneries and other crude industrial polluters. If it wasnt ok in 1890 in North America and Europe it shouldnt be ok in China in 2008.

The process is already under way. Acid rain caused by China's sulfur-dioxide emissions severely damages forests and watersheds in Korea and Japan and impairs air quality in the US. Every major river system flowing out of China is threatened with one sort of cataclysm or another. The surge in untreated waste and agricultural runoff pouring into the Yellow and China Seas has caused frequent fish die-offs, and overfishing is endangering many ocean species.

The growing Chinese taste for furs and exotic foods and pets is devastating neighboring countries' populations of everything from gazelles to wolves, and turtles to parrots, while its appetite for shark fin soup is causing drastic declines in shark populations throughout the oceans. According to a study published in Science in March 2007, the absence of the oceans' top predators is causing a resurgence of skates and rays, which are in turn destroying scallop fisheries along America's Eastern Seaboard. Enthusiasm for traditional Chinese medicine is causing huge declines in populations of hundreds of animals – including tigers, pangolins, and sea horses. Seeking oil, timber, and other natural resources, China is building massive roads, bridges, and dams throughout Africa, often disregarding international environmental and social standards.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

History is Often Wishful Thinking

I've spent the last thirteen years digging in the basements of old stores and wandering around old schmata factories looking for rare treasures. My grandfather had one said factory and I often think I got into the business of vintage when my Great Uncle Benjamin passed away, leaving a store with 75 years of goods tucked into the basement still to be sold. Benny used to say to me "business is business" and in his own way was a hero to his neighborhood which transitioned from Jewish to Portugese over the 80 some odd years he had his store there. Ah, back to the narrative at hand. I had one instance where I interviewed the owner of Brimaco Leathers (British Motorcycle Company) in Montreal. I was hunting down old patterns. This was one of the biggest and the oldest manufacturers of leather jackets in North America, starting around 1890. The gentleman was 75 years old and the grandson of the first owner. As the conversation progressed, a picture of old time leather factories emerged to me. He regaled me with tales of the old days before he shut the company down in the 90s. He made great claims of designing jackets before Buco and other competitors, he even told me that it was him who invented Coban thread (wrapping cotton and polyester together for increased strength) and how he used to pull jackets behind his car on a mannequin to test the strength and durability of his products. Tales aside, over the years it became obvious to me that all the manufacturers were aware of each others designs. Copying and borrowing was part of the schmata game. When a police department needed a jacket, the spec was put out and whomever made the jacket the cheapest won the contract. This is why you can see the same model of jacket made by 10 or more companies. Now to my point, I hear people say and claim they designed the "one star" jacket or it was "their" jacket used in such and such film. Like ... Schott was the jacket in The Wild Ones; or Buco was the first to design this one or that one. I can tell you that history is rarely so clear and until I meet someone with the brochures for every company with every jacket design, with dates and model numbers, we will never know who made what first, and what was designed by whom. All these great old men shared and competed for the same designs. Case in point, compare the jacket Brando wears in The Wild Ones (I met the director in N.Y.C. in the 80s, Lazlo who worked with Fritz Lang) to an original Schott jacket from the period. Note the Schott placement of the cuff zippers on the inside and Brando's are on the outside, and the main zipper is diagonal on Brando's but not on the Schott jacket! Hmmmm was it really a 618?






Friday, April 11, 2008

Women, Leather and the History of Girl Power

A dear friend who writes for the Globe and Mail Newspaper business section asked me a pointed question; are you only writing about and interested in men’s jackets? A wave of horror shook my spine, as I consider myself very gender equal in my interest in fashion. I had the sudden realization that I had devoted very little time to the woman’s leather jacket. I reflected on this, and reminded myself that my greatest enjoyment in life is to locate a fantastic leather jacket and have my sexy wife try it on! My second greatest enjoyment is when her swish upscale friends live in jealousy of her fabulous vintage jackets and complain when they cant find anything near as good at Holt Renfrew our local upscale shopping stop!
So why the lack of talk of women’s leather? Well, as I was reminded today, women rarely wore leather in the old days. Leather was a work jacket, a hunting jacket, a flying jacket but not so much a fashion jacket. Very few women’s leather jackets remain in the historical record as compared to men’s ones. It was the rare woman that wore leather. She was bold and unique, blazing trails for today’s woman! These women were the Amelia Earharts and Katherine Hepburn’s, adventurers and pant wearers! I decided to research Earhart today, and found out that she lived and worked just up the street from me on Spadina Ave in Toronto. Earhart came to Toronto to visit her sister and stayed to work with returning war vets at the then Spadina Military hospital up the street from me. It was here at the Canadian National Exhibition that she met flyers and discovered her passion for flying. And it was women like her (rare and few and far between) that wore leather. Amelia’s favorite jackets included a European tailored horsehide trench coat, and an Abercrombie A-1 style button up jacket. These were important styles that were much more typically worn by men and were the early prototypes for the much more famous jackets that were developed during WW2 for the famed pilots and soldiers on all sides of the war. The 1930s styles were simplistic and clean and reflective of intuitive tailoring that had been more or less untouched by the industrial age!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

I have been overwhelmed today with the response to my ebay auctions and have been answering questions galore relating to leather jackets. In the whirring noise of people trying to find, buy and sell pieces I often forget why I started the blog and why I am so into these leather jackets. It all started when I bought an Endura café racer flat track jacket years ago, I tried it on and I felt like a rock star. Those days are long gone, I was 28 then and I’m 41 now, my rock star status has faded with my hairline. What has remained is an intense knowledge of the many thousands of jackets I have handled over the years. I feel a nostalgia connected to these jackets. Similarly, I often feel a strange outrage when I see what other people consider fashion , or quality garments. So many of my mental meanderings follow from my sense of outrage whenever I see someone wearing a crappy piece of fashion leather.
I am going to preface this posting with the fact that I am not a safety expert, and I only have limited research into ideas around safety. I personally find the modern import jackets made with their poor stitching and crappy plastic inserts a ridiculous attempt to create a sense of security for the people who buy them.

Recent independent tests by Motorcycle News (MCN, 2003), in the UK found only 4 out of 18 leather suits f from the major European manufacturers, passed all the tests against the European Standard. Twelve of these suits failed the burst test due to either thread and/or leather failure and impact protectors failed in eight suits.

Ok, so exo skeleton wearers keep this in mind. My step dad was a coroner. For years we discussed the many many motorcycle accident victims that he would get every spring, summer and fall. It seems there is a prevailing opinion that impact with a solid object at a high rate of speed results in death. All the plastic bits in the world will not stop this inevitability. From years of seeing quality leather jackets that have been through slides and spills, the most important attribute I see is a hard thick leather that is abrasion resistant and allows for a slide, combined with proper construction and stitching that prevents the outfit from coming apart. Anecdotally, I don’t trust food made by slave farm labour, children’s toys, or leather suits. Here is a great quote from the Motorcycle Council of N.S.W.:

Most manufacturers are finally including impact protectors in all the right places. The abrasion resistance scores for textile jackets have also improved significantly. However it is pointless to have high abrasion resistant materials (leather or textile), if the stitching fails and the suit bursts apart when you hit the road. Quality of construction is critical.

So there you have it, why ever buy any item of clothing that is undermade, undersewn, or lacks the logic and purpose to which it is built. In my opinion, no leather jacket, for fashion, riding, working or just plain screwing around should be made with less then this standard in mind. Check out this 70s Vanson that I have up for sale and the abrasion on the back…sliding is the most important characteristic of full hide leather. I would love to see someone riding their bicycle in a Prada leather jacket and falling off…I like my standards, lol.

Friday, April 4, 2008

1930s CHAMOISE SUEDE A-1 AND GROMMET JACKET:


Until you have worn or held an early 30s suede jacket in your hand you cannot imagine the difference a little tradition makes. Modern suede is, by leather world standards, a by-product of the tanning process. When tanning leather modern tanners must often split or skive a skin down to a desired thickness to create the kind of skin required for the usage. So if one is making a belt or a saddle, a thick full skin in a veg. tan is best suited as it is hard, inflexible and mouldable for shaping and carving. These leathers, like shoe leather, can be a full thickness but for jacket purposes one has to split the layers of the dermis to create the desired thickness. The skin side epidermis (where the hair was) is the most valued part of the skin, and then the underside is the "suede" side. The left over by-product piece is often what we associate with suede today, a crappy rough-ish surface usable only for Halloween costumes as chaps. Suede itself has become the bottom of the leather barrel, so to speak.

Not so for 1930s suedes, they were the creme of the fashion product of their day. As modern leather makers sell "butter soft" jackets, their sales pitch is a misinterpretation of the jackets produced in the hey day of real leather jackets. The signifier has become so detached from the sign that leather production barely understands where and why soft leather became a fashion statement.

The word Suede derives from the term "gants de Suède" which translates gloves of Sweden. Suede is the split side of a skin, that was treated and sanded to create an open pored nap. This made suede soft and porous and perfect for the glove making industry. 1930s suede is quite unique and unlike any I have ever seen. The inside is always the top grain of the hide and the suede side is always a super super fine nap with the hide grain showing through. It is more like chamois than suede.

Ok, a little side note...chamois (the shammy) is a kind of South American goat. Chamois is made today by splitting and sanding lambskins and using only an oil tanning process. Chamois is super soft, porous and water absorbent and used for all sorts of fashion and industrial applications. 1930s suedes are very hide like but with the same qualities of chamois. The garments made with this leather were a clear counter statement to typical garments of the day. They were an expression of excess, clearly not utilitarian, no good for rough wear or use. So as an expression of wealth you could own a hard leather jacket for working or riding, and a soft leather jacket for fashionable nights out. These two jackets are great examples of those kinds of suede.

(they are for sale on ebay as well, for now!!)

That is why 'butter soft" is the sought after leather, but unfortunately it has become a misnomer!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

LANGLITZ: A piece of History


I've been reading a lot of chatter about leather jackets lately. I am amazed at some of the closet historians out there, and dumbfounded by some "voices" in the discussion that are more tude then knowledge. I'm all for chat, even wrong headed chat, but geez make sure you know a little of what you speak or inform yourself.
A fellow recently expressed the query "why are Langlitz jackets so revered, the use the same designs and the leather doesn't seem that great?".

I thought about this a lot lately! It seemed to ask the question why is the present day maker Langlitz sought after by so many and paid a premium for (as perceived by this guy). First contextual note: Langlitz jackets may seem expensive from the perspective of this dude, but in the world of high fashion leather...Aero, Langlitz, Lost Worlds et al are actually quite low on the price scale. Sure, you could buy a 169 Pakistan special, or find yourselves bouncing down the highway in a Joe Rocket jacket with cool fake eternal spinal cords and alien padding, but from the perspective of leather 1200-2500 is right in the middle. If you had a custom jacket made by Bill Wall, you could pay upwards of 4000-5000 dollars. Routinely Italian designers charge 2500-15000 for their weird incarnations, and there are certainly places I don't know about where you could spend lots more for custom pieces. I don't think price is an issue when looking for quality. Price is for people who cant afford the best! I recently read a story published by Scottish Bag Pipe and Kilt manufacturers who have had their business' challenged by imported kilts, pipes and knives and such from the east. As these fine laddies point out, if your bag pipes, kilts and such are cheap knockoffs made in foreign countries, what is the point of celebrating the Scottish heritage. You could save 2000 bucks to put traditional Scottish craftsman out of business, nice ironic kilt wearing statement. I'm so cheap I put the Scots out of business!

Ok, so obviously moving on from price, why Langlitz. From my perspective, the first answer which is not so obvious has to do with trends. Rin Tanaka started a craze with his books on Motorcycle jackets available through Schiffer Publishing. More often than not ebay listings of good vintage jackets refer to Rins book when selling their wares. The craze began in Japan way back in the 1980s, where young and old dudes alike have been adoring and living the American dream of the "motorcycle" guy for years and it spread to American and European readers. Rintaros book celebrated the few remaining survivors in the Jacket business from the great imported cheap jacket kill off. At some point price outweighed quality. Sometime in the 1970s manufacturers chose to make money riding on the memory of their quality North American (and in some cases European) manufacture and ruined their brands producing in Japan, Pakistan, Turkey and South America. What happened was inevitable. Initially they profited in North America, then eventually these out of country manufacturers learned to make their own brands and circumvent their American counterparts. Simultaneously, consumers unlearned quality...they learned to purchase crappy jackets for cheap. Very quickly great brands could no longer compete with cheaper imports and bamn, no more good jackets. Worse, the cultural memory of what quality fit, fashion and materials were all but dead by the 1980s. I remember interviewing a fellow who ran Brimaco Leather Jacket Company in Montreal. He was the third generation of Jacket makers to take over the company which became a property management company in the 1990s. He said they tried everything to save money to out compete imports, right down to buying his own cattleskins and driving them to the tannery himself!!!
To the point Rin celebrated the last men standing so to speak. This meant Langlitz leathers. They had the patterns and the original resonance of Ross Langlitz who created the brand with his old school motorcycle values. The hand of Ross could still be felt on the jackets. Previous to these books, people were isolated who were into these values of quality. Now you have the resurgence of old brands; people are buying up old motorcycle brands like hotcakes from the hotcake vendor. Some are trying to recreate the quality like Lewis Leathers and some are not!
My other point regarding why Langlitz remains well sought after regards the way they manufacture. They remain small, choosing to produce 5 or so jackets a day. They choose to make custom pieces, which is a lost art today. They choose to use the best "NORTH AMERICAN LEATHER" available, which means you are dealing with ethically produced clothing. These are all very good choices for reasons I will not go into at the moment. Sometimes being really good at what you do and remaining true to the past is a good thing, there may be new guys in the business ( I want to be a new guy) but that doesn't detract from the "old guys". If you buy a Langlitz your buying a piece of brand history. I will point out many many companies moved offshore to make their stuff and ruined their brands Gandalf, and many of the hippy jacket companies absolutely destroyed their business' this way, Langlitz remained a craft business...and you are paying for craft. It is amazing that they are still here, and people buying their products are supporting that vision in its entire set of implications which is a good thing. We as a culture need to spend less on more, not more on less or we will kill ourselves, and I for one am happy to have one or two good things then 1000 crap pieces of garbage. Learn from the Japanese who cant afford big spaces and big houses so they fill their lives with big quality purchases of the little things in life, just like the people in American culture in the 1930s who invented these values!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

If I Could Blow up Bell

Holy Crap!! This post has nothing to do with vintage leather jackets. Bell Canada, my former dsl provider that I fired, has struck back at me. The bastards at Bell are using their monopoly status to mess with their regulated wholesale customers. The very customers that in order to provide competition to bell lease a pipe from bell to provide me DSL. I quit bell because of their stupid stupid customer service and incredibly bad service, on top of which they started throttling their customers. It was the last straw for me. Bell Canada Puke Puke cough I vomit on your corporate face. So now that they are losing thousands of customers a day to their incredibly bad stupid bad bad stupid service, they have decided to single handedly level the playing field by limiting the service of their wholesale customers. Great. If Bell wont give it to you someone else will....try until bell messes their service from bells side. They are wrecking everybodys sandbox. Nice work, I will be calling the crtc tomorrow and trying to find out what moron is in charge of allowing this kind of nonsense. Canadians like to be whipping boys, we have a culture of domination, lets not put up with crap from bell and make some noise people. I apologize in advance for and profanities used in this post:

UPDATE: I wrote the CRTC and the Prime Ministers Office:
Guess what, I got a nice form letter back with reference to the Minister they suggest I contact it said the follows:
Dear Mr. Himel:

On behalf of the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, I would like to thank you for your e-mail, in which you raised an issue which falls within the portfolio of the Honourable Jim Prentice, Minister of Industry. The Prime Minister always appreciates receiving correspondence on subjects of importance to Canadians.

Please be assured that the statements you made have been carefully reviewed. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your e-mail to Minister Prentice, so that he too may be made aware of your comments. I am certain that the Minister will give your views every consideration. For more information on the Government's initiatives, you may wish to visit the Prime Minister's Web site, at www.pm.gc.ca.

L.A. Lavell
Executive Correspondence Officer
for the Prime Minister's Office
Agent de correspondance
de la haute direction
pour le Cabinet du Premier ministre