The leather jacket is the perfect Northwest fashion piece: trenches and fleece-lined bombers deflect rain and wind better than normal cloth, and music fans can embrace the city’s long-standing rock culture with distressed and studded pieces.
But leather jackets are more than just a fad — they have a rich, vibrant history. Two upcoming events hosted by the Experience Music Project will celebrate the garment’s legacy: a fashion show called “Project Leather” and a leather jacket exhibit called “Worn to be Wild.”
“Project Leather” will feature six designers from Seattle and Portland and their interpretations of the classic leather jacket. Event Coordinator Kristin Hoskins said the artists were chosen because of their ability to “do interesting things with leather” — but not all of the pieces shown will be made from the material.
“Project Leather” is the first fashion event ever hosted by the EMP and will serve as a kick-off to “Worn to be Wild,” a display commemorating the history of the leather jacket which will run through May 12. The exhibit, which was organized in collaboration with the Harley-Davidson Museum, will feature several famous pieces, including the jacket worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.”
Hoskins said she hopes “Worn to be Wild” will highlight leather’s evolution from a practical clothing material to one used for luxury items.
“Leather jackets were used in WWII and since then it has been taken from functional all the way up to couture,” Hoskins said. “Leather is always relevant.”
Fans of high-fashion can see pieces designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace, and history buffs can see WWII-era military flight jackets.
The exhibit will also show the prevalence of the leather jacket in the world of music, displaying pieces worn by various artists — including one of Elvis Presley’s favorite jackets from the 1950s and jackets worn by Fergie, Michael Jackson, and Gene Vincent.
“We want to show the history of rock and roll through the leather jacket,” Hoskins said. “The two are really related.”
One designer in particular truly fits the narrative of rock and roll and the leather jacket: Seattle-based designer Carole McClellan got her start designing for Heart, the legendary Seattle rock group. Some of McClellan’s sketches of a jacket she designed for Heart’s Ann Wilson will be featured at “Worn to be Wild,” and she plans on sending a rocker-worn jacket down the runway on Saturday.
McClellan began her design career as a child in rural Idaho. She learned to sew from a group of women who taught old-style couture (a type of design that focuses on creating one-of-a-kind, expensive garments) to the local 4-H club. The experience gave McClellan the discipline and attention to fine detail she still uses today.
“We had to make garments where we flipped them inside out and the lining looked just as good as the outside,” she said. “Or they’d take rulers and tell us we were an eighth of an inch off. And this was a rural, kid’s 4-H thing!”
She later transitioned to working with leather because she wanted a “cool, rock and roll style leather jacket,” but couldn’t purchase one in her rural hometown. She took her final product to a local leather shop to have some snaps set on it, and the shop owner was so impressed by her sewing skills that he offered her an apprenticeship. After graduating high school, McClellan moved to Seattle to work in the city’s thriving leather business.
A short time later, she was discovered by Wilson. She was invited to watch Wilson record “Barracuda,” and remembers wondering whether the song would be a hit.
“So from there, I was invited to do professional rock ‘n’ roll costumes for them,” McClellan said. “And from there I developed my own label. And here I am, still going strong.”
After years of designing for Heart, McClellan stayed in touch with the group. A couple Christmases ago, she was at Ann Wilson’s house when the singer led her to her closet and returned one of McClellan’s favourite pieces: a mid-length, black leather jacket embellished with zippers and red roses. Wilson wore the piece on stage several times — and though the jacket looks new and modern from far away, a close-up viewer can see places where the leather is worn from hours of dancing and performing.
“It’s still one of my favorite pieces even though I made it when I was 19,” McClellan said. “It really embodies my past of designing rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s still relevant. So that’s why I’m sending it down the runway on Saturday.”
Reach reporter Amelia Dickson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ameliadickson
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