A History of Leather: The Art of the Rockers' Jacket

The leather jacket has come a long way since Marlon Brando first imbued it with 50s cool. Photographer Horst A. Friedrichs documents the jacket's legendary past.

Style: "Agfa"

Images: Horst A. Friedrichs

Leather jackets have been around for centuries, but it took Marlon Brando wearing one in The Wild One to make them cool. Ever since his leather-clad bike gang stormed into town and took over the diner—where he leaned casually on a jukebox and answered the question "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?" with his infamous "Whaddya got?"—the leather jacket has been associated not only with effortless style but also with a sartorial statement of individuality.


Images: Horst A. Friedrichs

It's that spirit that photographer Horst A. Friedrichs, noted for his images of modern-day mods and rockers, captures in his new book Pride & Glory. Over the span of 400 pages, Friedrichs traces the evolution of the leather biker jacket through the history of rock and roll, from '50s rockabilly to '70s punk rock to the pop music of today. Many of the jackets are borrowed from the archives of Lewis Leathers, a London-based company that's been in the business since 1892.


Images: Horst A. Friedrichs

When you look at some of the contemporary pieces you realize how much the look has come full circle. Today's leather jackets are made from jet-black materials cut clean with sharp lines, just as they were when bikers started wearing them more than 50 years ago. Over the years they acquired studs, spikes, patches, fringe, and more—accessories that offer more cultural statement than functional value.


Images: Horst A. Friedrichs

Friedrichs not only presents a visual history of leather jackets, he also contextualizes the fabric's history with interviews. One minute you're reading an essay by Colin Fallows (professor of sound and visual arts at Liverpool's John Moores University) and the next you're processing gems like this: "My jacket tells a bit of who I am and what I believe in. It cuts out a lot of the shit in meeting like-minded individuals. It grows as I do and will continue until we're both aged leather."


Images: Horst A. Friedrichs


Images: Horst A. Friedrichs

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—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.

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