Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket
February 8 - May 4, 2014
Worn To Be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket arose through a partnership between EMP Museum and the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI. This exhibition encompasses around 150 artifacts, including fifty leather jackets. What appealed most to the exhibition's curator, Jim Fricke, about telling the story of how the leather jacket became a nearly universal symbol of toughness and cool in modern popular culture were the numerous connections that can be made to elements of society and social history throughout the last hundred years.
Worn primarily by aviators during First and Second World Wars , the leather jacket landed back home in North America to become the piece de resistance of the biker. Functionally protective, it also smacked of individuals living at the margins of society. In spite of (or perhaps because of) its bad-boy, bad-girl image, the leather jacket remains one of the most iconic pieces of clothing whether on the runway, or on the run.
Jackets on display run the gamut, from historic garb, hand decorated specimens and haute couture, to those worn by superstars past and present. Movie memorabilia, advertising materials, original art, and vintage motorcycles-including Elvis Presley's 1956 K Model Harley-Davidson-provide greater context in which to consider the rebel's most defining garment.
Highlights include early 1930s-1940s jackets from the Harley-Davidson Museum® archives; Second World War-era painted military flight jackets; mid-century jackets from Scho_ Perfecto; personalized punk jackets from the 1970s-1980s; the leather jacket worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2; and leather jackets designed by legendary haute couture designers Prada, Chanel and Givenchy.In its telling of how the leather jacket achieved its iconic status, Worn to be Wild uncovers the history and modern significance of the garment . This narrative is the story of transition from functional wear, to symbol of courage and cool, to iconic expression within popular culture, to flamboyant artistic design in applied arts and fashion.
Its current cultural meaning has been developed through use and adoption by numerous groups of people including the military, motorcycle gangs, and punk rockers. It evolved from early leather garments developed to protect their wearers from danger and has become a fashionable garment used to express one's personality.
Today, young people are as likely to associate the black leather jacket with Lady Gaga as Marlon Brando or motorcycling, but they still wear it for many of the same reasons people have for generations past.