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.
And these guys used to look cool but whatever happened to them?
It reminds me of all those strong female musicians of the last Century, like Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)
Joan Jet from the Runnaways,
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Lady Ga Ga.
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.
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.
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).
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,”
You may have been wondering who the very stylish lady is that surrounds my blog. Nancy Cunard was born in 1896 and was the only child of Sir Bache Cunard an heir to the Cunard shipping line and her mother was an American heiress Maud Alice Burke. In her later life she gave up her home and travelled. There was mental illness and poor physical health towards the end probably brought on by poverty and alcoholism. She was found on the street in Paris and died two days later on 17th March 1965.
She was brought up in England on the Cunard estate of Nevill Holt Hall in Leicestershire. Her parents separated in 1911 and she moved with her mother to London. She was educated at boarding schools in England and France.
When she was 24 she moved to Paris and became involved with literature, modernism, surrealism and Dadaism.
She was also a style icon. Her passion for African culture was shocking and unconventional. She wore huge slave bangles all the way up her arms, made from ivory, bone and wood. All natural materials made by native people and this provoked uproar in society circles. She also wore a necklace made from huge wooden cubes which paid homage to cubism. Eventually her eccentric style became legitimised and was referred to as the “barbaric look”. Jewellery houses such as Boucheron made their own versions of her African pieces.
In the late 20’s she had an affair with Louis Aragon, who was a French poet, novelist/editor and member of the communist party. He was also a follower of Dadaism and a founding member of Surrealism in 1924. After the affair ended she met Henry Crowder an African American jazz musician. Crowder opened her eyes to the injustices of racism and was to inspire her political activism in this area. In 1931 she published “Black Man and White Ladyship” which was an attack on the racist attitudes of the day. She also went on to edit “Negro Anthology” which was a collection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction by African American writers. It also included her own account of the “Scottsboro Boys” case. Because of her involvement in this book, she received anonymous threats and hate mail some of which she went on to publish in the book.
In the 1930’s she began to fight against fascism. She wrote about Mussolini’s annexation of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War. Cunard was to accurately predict that the events in Spain were the prelude to another world war. She raised funds for the Spanish refugees by standing on the streets of Paris. She polled 200 writers about the Spanish Civil War asking the question “Are you for, or against, the legal government and people of Republican Spain? Are you for, or against, Franco and Fascism? For it is impossible any longer to take no side.” She published the responses in a booklet “Authors Take Sides”, the most being from George Orwell, which started “Will you please stop sending me this bloody rubbish. This is the second or third time I have had it. I am not one of your fashionable pansies like Auden or Spender, I was six months in Spain, most of the time fighting, I have a bullet hole in me at present and I am not going to write blah about defending democracy or gallant little anybody…”
In London during the Second World War she worked tirelessly as a translator for the French resistance.
So Nancy didn’t simply settle for being a rich heiress, muse, patron or mistress to artists and writers, she was a fierce campaigner against injustice and prejudice wherever she encountered it.