For me the BLJ occupies a really special place in my psyche.  It represents the rebel within that I cannot quite fully release.  It takes me right back to my teenage years and the music I loved, punk rock.  Anyone who wore a leather jacket could look cool.  Well perhaps not anyone.  For example, Brad Pitt is struggling here.

Brad Pitt

And these guys used to look cool but whatever happened to them?

The Beatles

It reminds me of all those strong female musicians of the last Century, like Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)

Chrissie Hynde

Joan Jet from the Runnaways,

Joan Jett

The Slits,

The Slits

Gaye Advert

Gaye Advert,

Patti Smith, Debbie Harry,Debbie Harry

Suzie Quatro

And Suzie Quatro, who had her first number 1 in 1973 with Can the Can.

And all the really cool boys wore them too.   The bands, the rock artists all looked so cool in their BLJs.  It represents strength, and although they are all much the same, there is something individual about a BLJ.

The Ramones

The Ramones

The Clash

The Clash

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Bruce Sprinsteen

Bruce Sprinsteen

Johnny Thunders

Johnny Thunders

Keith Richards

Studded BLJ

On the face of it, they are similar in style, but they mould to the body of their wearer and can be customised in either ostentatious or very minimal ways.

A man in a BLJ is way too cool for school and a woman in a BLJ can take on the world and not just this one.

Since the age of 17 I’ve always owned a leather jacket.  It is hidden away in my wardrobe and I am ashamed to say rarely gets worn, but it reminds me of the inner me,  le rebelle sans cause!

I remember searching the markets of Camden for my first leather jacket, it had to be perfect and then I found it in the Freeman’s catalogue (anyone remember these) in the days before the Internet.  It was tiny and made of really soft black leather with all the right details and I loved it.  Then I loaned it to a friend and it got stolen.  My next BLJ had an eighties style to it as did the next one, which was thick and heavy and way oversized, as worn in those days.  Then more recently I purchased another BLJ very similar to my first one.  It must have been out of the wardrobe all of 3 times.  It is quite simply a crime and must be rectified as soon as this blog is complete.

There is no doubt that the BLJ is a cultural icon.  Historically it hails from across the pond.  Favoured by US police for its waterproof and protective qualities.

Marlon Brando in The Wild One

Marlon Brando in The Wild One

It became the ultimate symbol of cool in the 50’s being worn by the likes of Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” a 1953 outlaw biker film, directed by Laszlow Benedek and produced by Stanley Kramer.  Brando played the iconic gang leader Johnny Strabler.

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause

James Dean confirmed its coolness in Rebel Without a Cause, a 1955 American film about emotionally confused middle class teenagers, directed by Nicholas Ray.

And later it became the uniform of bikers and Hells Angels.

It was cool way back in the day, worn by style icons like Nancy Cunard and her Barbaric look ivory African bangles.

images.jpg

Today BLJ’s are inextricably linked with Heavy Metal, Glam Rock, Punk Rock, Rock n Roll, the list goes on, Madonna,

Lady Ga Ga.

Anyone who wants to add a little bit of cool to their wardrobe simply rocks up to the party in a BLJ.  Andy Warhol did.

When the TV shows and films of the 70’s and 80’s depicted life in the 50’s and 60’s, they used the BLJ, The T-Birds in ‘Grease’ and

The Fonze in ‘Happy days’ are examples of this. 

 

The BLJ was the subject of a book published in 1985 and written by Mick Farren, chronicling its history over a seventy year period up to the mid 1980s.   “The black leather jacket has always been the uniform of the bad.”   He sites Hitler’s Gestapo, the Black Panthers, punk rockers and the Hell’s Angels.  

And we all remember Arnold Schwarzernegger in The Terminator, when he steels the biker’s outfit from the Hell’s Angels in the cafe bar at the beginning of the film.


The BLJ is clearly an icon of the cool but sometimes I would like to think it all started with a cold female biker back in 1949.


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A Passion for Things

 

Amputation devices through time

Amputation devices

I woke up this morning and thought time to write a new blog.  We are in France at the moment, the weather is wonderfully hot at least over 35 degrees and my mind turned to bakelite once again (and why not?).  Well I am still bemoaning the fact that I had declined to purchase the most gorgeous little bakelite Box Brownie camera in a leather case from a vide grenier for 5€.  But worry not, as this is not another blog about bakelite and not even about people who collect bakelite, as I have previously touched upon Andy Warhol’s penchant for collecting carved bakelite bangles.  He also collected cookie jars and had over 175 when he died.

Andy Warhol's Cookie Jar Collection

Andy Warhol’s Cookie Jar Collection

No! I am thinking about when items are gathered together in a collection they always seem to me to be more than the sum of their individual parts and have a significance and beauty all of their own.  I am not really considering the psychological reasons why people collect or the very different and wacky things that are collected.  Rather than be too Freudian here I like to think that people collect either for fun, to rekindle childhood memories of perhaps toys played with in the past; or for investment, because a collection may be worth something in the future; or for a sense of achievement because it could be fulfilling to complete a collection; or a collection may demonstrate a sense of identity and individualism.  Collecting is what we humans do, and it is and has been an essential tool for the historian and anthropologist.  If humans didn’t collect then we wouldn’t have the wonderful contents of many of our museums today.  And for me, collecting isn’t just having a couple of items that are similar or the same, it is having that particular amount that makes it into a collection.  Considering the “odd number rule” I would say it’s got to be a minimum of three items.  Anyway having done a little research courtesy of the web I realised that people collect the most weird and sometimes horrible things.  From celebrity hair, to tattoos, to used toothbrushes.  For those with a nervous disposition or weak of stomach, and that includes me, I shan’t be venturing into this area of collecting.  See what you think of the following collections and do let me know what you collect, if anything.  (Images mostly courtesy of Pinterest).  

shoes

Shoes

Voodoo masks

Whitefriars glass

pyrex

Pyrex

Paperweights

Vintage cameras

Vintage cameras

Vintage tins

mirrors

Old bottle collection

Old bottle collection

If you want to read more on the subject of collecting then check out Marjorie Akin an anthropologist from the University of California, who has written an essay, “Passionate Possession: The Formation of Private Collections,”

HEN’S TEETH

Bakelite “born of fire and mystery,” Time magazine

 

Bakelite jewellery is hard to find but unlike hen’s teeth you can find it.

I want to explain how I determine whether the plastic costume jewellery that I have collected over the years is bakelite or some other form of plastic/Lucite.

Bakelite is a man made plastic named after a Belgian chemist, Leo Hendrik Baekeland who invented it in 1907.  Just Google the word bakelite and you’ll get loads of information about its history.  Bakelite was probably the first real plastic as it is entirely synthetic in its make up.  Jewellery has often been made from plastics like amber and reformed bone.

If the piece is being purchased at a flea market, vintage fair or car boot sale then I rely on my sense of touch/feel and my eyes.  Bakelite tends to come in a range of colours that are more natural looking than Lucite (oranges, greens, rusts and browns).  The piece will usually be quite clunky and solid to the touch.  Definitely no seams as this would denote a moulded plastic.  Bakelite has a warmth and greasiness that Lucite does not.  When I get the piece home, I will run it under hot water and wait to see if there is a smell that is very strongly formaldehyde or carbolic acid. If bakelite the smell will be apparent very quickly when run under very hot water.  At the same time  I will use a cotton bud to rub a very small amount of simichrome/or chrome polish on the piece and if it is bakelite there will be a yellow residue on the cotton bud.  Some colours of bakelite wont test positive with the polish but if they are bakelite then the hot water test may confirm its authenticity.

If you want to collect plastics, try and not be disappointed if it isn’t bakelite.  There were certainly lots of other plastics that were used in the middle to late 20th Century and if you buy because you like, then you will never feel cheated.

Prices

Remember Andy Warhol, who said “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”? He was a flea market junkie and fell in love with Bakelite as a medium. He bought every quality piece he could find and accumulated a huge collection.  After his death in the late 1980’s, this collection was sold at Sotheby’s in New York and this spurred interest and therefore prices risen.