Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond Bikers Leather Goes from the Highway to the Runway

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Beyond Bikers Leather Goes from the Highway to the Runway

Article excerpt

FOR FRENCH DESIGNER Jean-Paul Gaultier, the motorcycle jacket "has become as much a classic . . . as the navy blazer."

For Chanel's impresario Karl Lagerfeld, leather biker boots are chic enough to be re-styled for his recent Paris collection. He quickly sold out of them, even at $1,000 per pair.

For basic American sportswear designers such as Dana Buchman, Carole Little and Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy, leather this fall is a spunky addition to their lines of updated career clothes.

And for Harley-Davidson salesmen, such as Tony Roth at Doc's in Kirkwood, leather continues to make inroads into the business. Customers are buying more leather jackets than ever before, says Roth.

"A motorcycle is the in thing right now. Whether you own one or not, you want to look like you do," he says.

Not just the biker gear but all manner of tough, fashionable clothing in leather is moving through stores as fast as a new bike on an old country road.

The national Leather Apparel Association estimates that leather sales have quadrupled since 1985. "What's especially amazing," says association spokeswoman Lili Kasdan, "is that it's over a time period when the economy started spiraling into recession."

Theories abound as to why leather is liked now by such a diverse group of people.

There's inherent fashion value. Leather often looks sleek, rich, even sensual and is what the fashion industry calls investment dressing - clothing which may hold its monetary value over time.

New tanning processes also make leather more supple, thinner and easier to style into drapeable shapes.

According to Kasdan, the newest leather styles this year include straight-sided bomber jackets with no elastic at cuffs or waistlines; streetwise police-style jackets, black, short or three-quarter length; military jackets with gold-button trim, belted or in pea-coat shapes; full-length duster coats in fluid leather; vests; and a number of hats.

And the classic black motorcycle jacket, that Gaultier praised in the New York Times recently, is everywhere from department-store racks to specialty stores to the selling floors of motorcycle shops.

There also may be an impact on leather's popularity, coming from another direction.

"I think maybe people aren't buying furs," said Deborah Durham, a leather expert for Timberland, the maker of preppy, water-resistant leather boots and jackets. She visited St. Louis recently on business. Her point, she said, was that leather may look expensive enough to serve as an alternative to fur, if customers are put off by fur controversies.

"I've been traveling around the country since August, and it's very rare for people to ask me the question about animals or animal rights," Durham says. Her leathers are cowhide and lambskin. "Leather's not an endangered species," she says. …

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