Thursday, August 27, 2009

Immigration, England and Canada...

One of the greatest and oldest leather jacket manufacturers was Lewis Leathers in England. I had never been exposed to Lewis' jackets because of the high cost of quality and the fact that few North Americans owned British jackets. I bought my first Lewis jacket ten years ago and immediately fell in love. In Rin Tanaka's first motorcycle book there was a healthy chapter on British jackets and of course a tiny section of Canadian makers. Once I held a Lewis jacket in my hands I was an instant convert. Thick European hides and tight fitting manly designs and that unique square map pocket differentiate Lewis' jackets from the competition. Lewis' jackets are highly revered in Japan, making it pratically unaffordable to purchase one on Ebay.
Recently I spent some time interviewing the owner of British Manufacturing Company or Brimaco...possibly Canada's oldest leather jacket maker. Jerry gave me a long history of his company going back to his Great Uncle who emigrated from Germany to London and from London to Montreal to open Brimaco around 1895. British society and the empire was exceptionally tollerant toward Jews in the period. The British were the first to elect a Prime Minister of Jewish heritage in 1874, Benjamin Disraeli. Because of the horrid living conditions elsewhere in Europe the finest tailors of the day dispersed amongst England and the colonies bringing their expertise with them. During this time early industrialization and the invention of the sewing machine gave rise to the boom of the "Schmata" business.
Jerry told me that he would visit motorcycle competitions in England and California to see what designs were popular. He was directly influenced by Lewis Leathers and Bates of California. Obviously there was cross fertilization between English designs and North American makers. These are pictures of a classic Lewis Leather Jacket and a very early Brimaco jacket from the 1940s. See how the Brimaco is a hybrid of a Harley Davidson jacket cross combined with some details that are clearly European in inflection. Canadian jacket makers were not boring, nor were they copiests. Each maker had their own unique styles. Jerry who ran Brimaco clearly brought inflections of design details back to Canada from his Hebrew "cousins" in England.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Gen X...The Glory and the Pain....

One of the curses and benefits of being of "my generation" was the great social confusion and privileged that was the bounty of GenXers. What I mean to say is that I grew up with all the ideological lessons of the sixties combined with the boom in marketing of the seventies combined with the economic vacuum created by the Yuppies (read post Hippies). The forces at work created an incredible melange of youth cultures in the eighties influenced by lots of esoteric education, real social discord and a rich tapestry of aesthetics and hyper-post-cynicism. More or less I come from a generation that knew too much and has been politically emasculated by playing social and economic catch-up. That aside what I really want to write about is one of the great fashion and social influences of my childhood, psychedelic art!
I grew up reading Mad Magazine, being exposed to hot wheels, build Revell models of monster cars...winning black light posters at the Exhibition (the local fair in Toronto) and watching tripped out television like Batman and H.R. Puffinstuff. I had no idea that all this consumption was secretly programming my brain with an absolute love of trippy design. When I was in my twenties I was so influence by comic art that I actually applied for and was offered work drawing comics for a small company in the city I went to university. Doodle Art (a Canadian invention) was one of the earliest creative influences I had. They were 3 posters of psychedelic line art with markers inside a tube and the goal was to colour the huge poster in until your brain burst with acid infused exhilaration. One of my many ventures in my later life lead me to Salt Spring Island where I met one of the many artists who contributed to the Doodle Art Pantheon..Bob Masse Bob met me on his motorcycle and took me back to his beautiful studio and gave me a personal tour of years of rock poster designs and stories. Sadly my dream of reviving Doodle Art ended when I realized the originators had sold the international rights to a mega-publisher, however they are still trying to sell the old sets in Canada...Doodle Art
These genius' have inspired an entire generation of clothing designers...guys like Peter Max, Crumb, Rick Griffen, Stanley Mouse, Rat Fink, Bob Masse and so on!!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Simplicity of Design; Back to the Earth!

The real beauty of design today can be found in the simplicity of the past. The new counter culture of design contrasts sharply against the overwrought Ed Hardy styles of Los Angeles. There is a counter culture bubbling in the fashion world of brave designer/producers that are willing to look past the easy path of Chinese production and corporate reification for a hands on craftsman's approach to fashion. This counter movement often captures the imagination of the big fashion producers like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie who seek to imitate and create mini lines of clothing trying to capture this authenticity without the process required to actually have the character of the "craftsman". There are no shortcuts, and branding does not make up for small batch production and passion for fashion. These pictures may seem to have little in common but many of the features of these very unique items are being recreated by craftspeople across the globe. The simple 1930's triangular expansion gusset, which shows up on the sides of early jackets or in the neck and armpits of early sweatshirts is both a beautiful and practical feature. It was replaced by lycra banding and bi-swing backs which were more efficient in the 1940s and 1950s. See how the sole of a work boot was simply a "nail delivery system" with some nice "Branding" for traction! Between single stitching and simple graphics these have become the new characteristics of the "new craftsman"!