There are few garments that are more alluring than the leather jacket. From motorcycle enthusiasts to punk rockers, this single article of clothing has arguably more history and socio-political importance than anything of its kind. Starting February 8th, you will have a chance to explore the wonders of cow-hide couture with Glenbow Museum’s Worn To Be Wild exhibit. For the next three months, Glenbow is proud to be the host to Harley Davidson’s collection of iconic leather jackets and associated tidbits.
Zoltan Varadi, Glenbow Museum spokesperson, was able to tell us, “At Glenbow we’re committed to telling stories through art and, by that, we don’t just mean traditional visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, but the art of making things — textiles, furniture, etc. This exhibition is a great example of that and it tells a very interesting story of how the leather jacket evolved from practical, functional protective wear for motorcyclists and pilots in the early 20th century to becoming a symbol of cool, rebellion and individuality in the mid-century, to finally becoming the staple of popular culture and fashion that it is today.”
From its first use as specialized protective wear to the fashion staple that we see it as today, it kind of makes you wonder why this jacket has such a profound effect on us after all these years. Local talent wrangler and amateur leather jacket enthusiast Spencer Brown hypothesizes, “Leather jackets for me, always involve a good story. Like a tattoo, they have that air that’s a perfect dark mixture of mystery and bad-assery. No one says ‘Oh, I picked this up at a mall,’ as leather jackets are intensely personal and are something you seek out or like I did, stumble upon in a perfect moment of punk rock luck in a thrift store.”
Matt Wickens, frontman for the local punk band The Mandates, sees it a little differently. According to him, “Leather just makes me feel alright. I think leather jackets are to rock ‘n’ rollers what security blankets are to children – when they’re on you, you’re secure, cool and confident. When they’re not, you’re not.” With so many different meanings, no wonder leather means so much to so many.
No matter what drives you to slide into a coat of your own or admire one on TV or on the street, you’ll certainly be properly represented in this new exhibit. According to Varadi, some of the pieces we can expect will include “a jacket from the late ‘50s/early ‘60s that belonged to Elvis (plus we’ll have his 1956 K Model Harley Davidson motorcycle on display, too), the full leather outfit Arnold Schwarzenegger wore in Terminator 2, a whole section of custom punk jackets from a private collection that date from the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. In terms of pop culture, the show ranges from the alternative/underground, like X guitarist Billy Zoom’s jacket, to garments worn by very popular figures, such as Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas. There are also lots of great historical items — First and Second World War flight jackets and a rare jacket from an outlaw motorcycle club (they usually don’t allow outsiders to get their hands on those), plus a section dedicated to high fashion from designers like Prada, Givenchy, Chanel and more. Basically there’s something for everyone.”
Though it’ll be around for a few months, this will certainly be a “can’t miss” event, especially considering the fact that although the exhibit has already travelled to the likes of Seattle and to Wisconsin’s Harley Davidson Museum. For now, the Glenbow dates are its only scheduled Canadian appearances, so be sure to hop on your motorcycle and book it down to the museum, post haste, and go a little hog wild.
Worn to be Wild runs at the Glenbow Museum from February 8 to May 4.
By Max Maxwell