You know the look: the sneering Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One'and Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper trashing their way through 'EasyRider.'
Harley-Davidson motorcycles plus black leather equals trouble.As fashion images go, this one used to be a toughie.
Not anymore. Not when your stockbroker neighbor has a Simonizedmotorcycle parked in his garage for weekend larks; whenHarley-Davidson dealerships can match and even surpass the bestspecialty shops for contemporary designs in fine leatherwear, andwhen this venerable king-of-the-road company even puts out its ownfashion catalog.
From the street chic of biker jackets to the sleeksophistication of an Italian-cut trench coat, Harley-Davidson, thecountry's only motorcycle manufacturer is riding high in mainstreamfashion.
Rock idols like Jody Watley, George Michael and Miami SoundMachine's Gloria Estefan have put Harley-Davidson signature blackleather jackets, vests, jeans and chaps on practically every Americanteenager's wish list.
'Watch MTV for 10 minutes and you'll see more leather thanyou'll find in 10 cattle yards,' joked advertising coordinator ArtGompper from Harley-Davidson's Milwaukee corporate headquarters.
Scrutinize the higher fashion circles and you'll findHarley-Davidson sneaking in with some of the world's most establishedstatus symbols. There's the flash of a Harley-Davidson silver chainbelt - its logo ever so discreet - under a Calvin Klein blazer; aHarley-Davidson wallet tucked into a Fendi bag; the classic,timeless style of a three-quarter-length black leather coat worn withDonna Karan pants.
The contemporary men's sport jacket can handle a shirt and tieas easily as it does a turtleneck and jeans, and the more refined H-Dvest, without the usual biker fringe and laces, segues smoothly intothe most conservative male wardrobe.
Gompper says, though, that most non-bikers who shop atHarley-Davidson dealerships or through the catalog go for the upbeat,trendy look of black leather.
Also, Harley-Davidson leathers offer more durability andfunction for less money than most designer pieces.
William G. Davidson, grandson of one of the founders and nowvice president of Harley-Davidson styling - which takes in everythingfrom the way the motorcycles look to the company's new fashionattitude - insists on strict quality control.
All the hides are vat-dyed, which means they're soaked andtumbled in huge vats until the leather is soft and permeated withcolor. A lot of manufacturers, and even high-fashion leatherdesigners, use a cheaper, easier spraying process which tends to turnout a stiff, shiny jacket with color that quickly scratches off andwears out. Jackets have high-tech stainless steel, antique brass ormatte black metal hardware ('The zippers are big enough so that youcan grip them with gloved fingers,' notes Gompper). Bona fidebikers' jackets are made with wind flaps, snapdown collars, plenty ofpockets, zippered sleeve closures, removable linings and concealedventing systems.
Davidson takes a more design-oriented approach to traditionalbiker fashion with his Leathers by Willie G. for both men and women -a unique collection of fringed and braid-trimmed jackets andaccessories.
Women's sizes, by the way, are true women's sizes, not justscaled-down versions of men's styles.
There are, of course, limits. The fringed black leather bustiercould hardly be considered career dressing with a glen plaid businesssuit. But who's to know that, underneath, you're wearing a blackcotton knit camisole and panties that say you're a Harley-Davidsonwoman? Photographed at Chicago Harley-Davidson