Hell bent for leather: The Schott Perfecto and my journey into obsession.
July 30, 2013
It all started when I thought I’d lost my beloved leather bomber jacket. I’d bought the coat from a vintage store in Hollywood while there on a shoot. (That’s me wearing it behind the camera, checking out the composition of a shot.) I would later find my coat but by then it was too late. My addictive personality had been ignited…
I began scouring Ebay for other, even better examples of old leather jackets. Searching for anternatives to my vintage Vietnam flight jacket opened a closet door inside my head that would require serious filling, for while I quickly found a suitable replacement, I could not let go my desire for more. Like all obsessions or addictions, there is both an upside (something new and exciting) and a downside (the inability to stop). Since I am still enjoying the high with minimal consequences I want to focus on the upside.
There’s something about a leather jacket. It speaks to me. I think of Marlon Brando, who made the biker jacket iconic in The Wild One. Strangely, I don’t recall ever seeing the movie (my bad) but I saw him. And I saw that jacket. I think every man born in the 20th century did. Him and it became truly iconic.
Still, it wasn’t until I explored replacing my brown bomber that the category (especially biker jackets) truly infatuated me. Interestingly, I grew up watching Happy Days on TV and Fonzie’s leather jacket (also iconic) did nothing for me, perhaps because I saw Arthur Fonzerelli as more of a buffoon than a man to be admired.
Again, here nor there, because a more personal experience did me in. Upon receiving my replacement leather I also became turned on. The feel of distressed, busted-up material, its grain and fortitude, it’s suppleness in spots, made me think of the story behind it. Who wore this jacket? What kind of man was he? Like all romantics, I imagined only the best. The owner(s) of this jacket was a true man, a badass with a rogue’s spirit. I imagined the pack of cigarettes in his pocket and motorcycle keys dangling by his side. I saw in him (and it) the man, for better and for worse, I could never be. Damn my self-awareness!
I also discovered that the brown bomber jacket, as cool as it is, has nothing on the black motorcycle jacket. Not to disrespect the brave men and women who fought in our wars but here was perfection. Like the Fender Stratocaster, nothing says original American awesomeness like a black motorcycle jacket.
The perfect example was and is the Schott Perfecto. For those unawares, the Schott Brothers were Russian immigrants (like my great grandfather), who started a company in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. Originally, they sold only raincoats but in 1928, they began producing biker jackets. Motor power was all the rage on American roadways and these feisty immigrants were all over it. Selling for $5.50 the Perfecto made its debut (fittingly) at a Long Island Harley Davidson dealership.
By the 1950’s (in part due to Marlon Brando’s break out role), the “modern” Perfecto was born. Embraced by the likes of James Dean (who seldom was seen without one) and rejected by high school principals everywhere, the Schott Perfecto became a symbol for rebellion, machismo and coolness.
Quoting from their website, by the 1970’s “Schott became synonymous with the punk rock movement. The current wave of rebellion came to the streets of downtown New York City through underground music venue, CBGB. The Schott Perfecto® was the uniform for rock stars like The Ramones, Blondie, Joan Jett and The Sex Pistols.”
Oddly, when I was a teen-ager I did not own one. The 50’s seemed goofy to me (see Happy Days) and besides, I had the fashion sense of a nematode.
Ah, but what I wouldn’t give now for a 50’s era Perfecto. What few are available are either in terrible shape or can be had for two grand or more on the Japanese market. Thank God the Japanese are conspicuously smaller than we robust Americans or I’d likely have bought one. I have however found several fine examples from the 70’s and 80’s (far less expensive) and they now adorn a rolling rack in my garage.
I lovingly washed and restored each one of them, replacing a star here and a belt there, careful not to diminish their character and patina. To learn how to care for these gems I made friends with leather craftsmen, like Al’s Attire in North Beach or my man, Misak at Tony’s Luggage & Repair in Mill Valley. I researched the brand. I became part of the Schott community, asking questions on their website, requesting hardware and advice. In short, I fell in love.
And now, almost every chilly San Francisco morning, I choose one and make my way into the world. For though I am a father and a copywriter, when I put on a black leather jacket I am Perfecto.