Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tanners; A Dying Art Form in North America

I spend a lot of time working in and around leather jackets. It seems to me that for most people the whole process of where jackets come from and how they are made is a bit of a mystery. I spend all my time concentrating on how to improve little tiny differences of the process. So I am going to spend some time sharing some of the basic mechanics of making leather. I can tell you that trying to recreate the way leather was made in 1900 is no easy task. The reality is that modern clothing is a reflection of modern processes, and modern processes are about automation, profits ahead of value and reification. Essentially the North American Tannery is an endangered species. Leather is made in China, South America and other places where labour, animals and environmental practices are seldom a concern and often unregulated. The "craft" of making leather is for the most part gone. I'm trying to rediscover that craft to bring authenticity back to the process, along with an intrepid bunch of intrested others who I connect with daily via the web, this blog and my business.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cool, Vintage, Leather and Why I do it.

Cool was once an attitude fostered by rebels and underdogs, such as slaves, prisoners, bikers and political dissents, etc., for whom open rebellion invited punishment, so it hid its defiance behind a wall of ironic detachment, distancing itself from the source of authority rather than directly confronting it.

Cool is also an attitude widely adopted by artists and intellectuals, who thereby aided its infiltration into popular culture. Sought by product marketing firms, idealized by teenagers, a shield against racial oppression or political persecution and source of constant cultural innovation, cool has become a global phenomenon that has spread to every corner of the earth.[2] (Taken from wikipedia)

Key to this concept of cool is Leather. I became obssessed with leather when I purchased an Endura 1960s cafe racer with a yellow racing stripe. I was overwhelmed with an instantaneous, almost indigenous sense of cool and beauty in that jacket. I became suddenly aware that there are two streams of fashion in the world. Crap...which is what almost everybody wears, and pure cool genius. And just like John Wayne, Cockburn, McQueen, Newman...these guys were innately cool. You cant teach truthfullness, solidity and the desire to stray from what everybody else seems to think is normal. That is what leather jackets, real leather jackets are all about, sorry Belstaff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quality vs. Price: The Future of Consumption

One of the interesting trends over my 20 years in fashion is the rate of the cycle between the popularity of a particular vintage item within my customer group of designers and Japanese and the time lag before the same remade items become hugely popular in North American fashion markets. Vintage trends have always been 2 years ahead of the North American Street.
This year Red Wings et al have become the hot boot trend in new footwear. What is fascinating to me is the way that Red wings, bluntstones and other boot companies have produced a reasonably priced replica vintage boot. The irony is, they are replicating their own, better made higher quality original boots. This begs a question, what is the difference between a 140 dollar pair of boots and a 600 dollar pair of boots. I can tell you while slight, to get to the kind of sewing, hand cutting and leather in a 600 dollar or more pair of boots you need to have the care and respect that went into boot making 50 or more years ago. Hand made boots were made to last for years because one pair might be the only pair you owned. On that note, after watching Obama's opening notes on the new global era, isn't responsible shopping about buying one good thing (expensively) and keeping it for a long while. Isn't that why I love vintage, if you make it right once its good for a long, long, long time!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Belstaff, Movies and Leather

Every once and a while I am called upon by the film industry for some consultation. I really enjoy this work because they tap me for "expertise" on how to create authenticity for their historical period clothing. There is nothing that I enjoy more than a film that captures the verisimilitude of a period vis a vis correct and fabulous costuming. Last year I worked on Amelia Earhart staring Hillary Swank. The costumers needed authentic vintage jackets to recreate the look of the 1930's and I was happy to share my interest, knowledge and collections with the film makers. Many of my jackets were used in the movie. The other main contributor to the film was Belstaff. Belstaff and other companies are often called in to make historical recreations to fill the size gap differences that cannot be achieved because modern men and women are often much larger then the people of the 1930s. In the case of Earhart, her original flying jacket (which was made by Abercrobie in the 30s) would be next to impossible to find so the film staff or private contractor would have to make a copy.

I went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" yesterday and I was for the most part impressed. There are many stunning examples of original period jackets in the film. You could not have a better model than Brad Pitt to wear a jacket and he is an excellent 30s and 40s period archetype persona. The wool plaid jackets and leathers were for the most part stunning and accurate. The film has a gritty feel and look and the costumers go to great lengths to find accurate clothing. Belstaff contributed several jackets to the film and if I had found a picture of their 1930s shawl collared sheepskin and horsehide button up barnstormer jacket I would have posted it. Kudos to them for creating not just the nice tight cut but the jacket look fit seamlessly into the film. This did not hold true for their other creation pictured above. The four pocket jacket seemed frilly and out of place on Pitt in the film. It did not fit the character or the time or place of the film and it would be highly unlikely that the character of Button would have owned this jacket regardless of the look of the jacket. Oh well, marketing opportunities often outweigh the desire to be "authentic". Seems a shame though as films like "The Motorcycle Diaries" and even the most recent "Indiana Jones" with Shia LaBeouf really capitalize on historical iconic referencing with their fantastic recreations of early motorcycle jackets. I'm giving the leather a 50% score in the film oscillating between brilliant and banal!