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Designers have always had a thing for life in the fast lane. So it should come as no surprise that Gucci creative director Frida Giannini was happy to donate archive outfits to the new film Rush, which recounts the rivalry between Formula One stars James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the mid-1970s.
“It is hard to think of a more glamorous profession than being a racing driver in the 1970s,” says Giannini. “James Hunt’s style is full of animal sensuality.”
Giannini is not the only one with the racetrack on her mind: look online and in stores and the influence of another high-adrenalin motorsport can be seen to have reached critical mass this season. Yes: the biker jacket is big news.
“The biker jacket trend has been going strong for the past couple of seasons, really gaining momentum for autumn/winter 2013,” says Jaclyn Jones, womenswear editor for the trends forecaster WGSN. “It’s a perfect transition piece” – and that goes for both men and women.
Online shopping portal Farfetch has no fewer than 197 women’s styles on offer for autumn at the last count – from Junya Watanabe’s red leathers (£1,182) to Phillip Lim’s padded shoulder style (£1,432), Saint Laurent’s two-zip classic (£3,084) and Alexander McQueen’s neatly fitted number (£2,645). For men, there are 43 styles – from Drome’s studded lapel number (£2,134) to modernist updates by Rick Owens (£1,212) and Maison Martin Margiela (£1,401).
Over at Net-a-Porter, you find a more modest 60-plus styles – but what the site lacks in numbers it makes up for in impact: from an animal print goat hair number by Christopher Kane (£3,630) to Proenza Schouler’s white cracked leather zippy style (£1,855).
At men’s site Mr Porter, there’s Schott’s vintage oiled leather Perfecto (£1,140) and a cuffed biker/bomber hybrid (£705) from McQ by Alexander McQueen.
“The leather jacket has been an iconic symbol of ‘cool’ for decades,” says Jason Hall, director of men’s trend forecasting at Stylesight. “Its fit and details mark moments in pop culture from the Ramones’ shrunken biker jacket in the 1970s to Michael Jackson’s red leather rendition in the 1980s. And designers are still pushing the boundaries. We’ve seen athletic interpretations in bomber shapes from Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim. Also the combination of biker sleeves attached to classic overcoats are a key look.”
The proliferation of the biker jacket makes sense: it is the ultimate trans-seasonal cover-up, it suits all ages, makes a good investment that will only get better with wear and, in a season with a whiff of rebellion about it, adds a cool edge to even the most conservative look.
That edge is not lost on Rick Owens, who has capitalised on it since creating his own label almost 10 years ago. “The biker is probably what I’ve become known for,” the designer says. “I did a soft skinny version that people seem to have responded to. I wanted it to refer to the languor of 1930s Hollywood and Sid Vicious equally. It’s not for everyone, but my Stooges jacket [£1,245 for women, £1,645 for men] seems to work.”
Japan-born Junko Shimada included 15 new variations of the biker in her autumn/winter collection, in everything from alligator skin to calf leather, leopard print and patent. “Each piece has a strong identity and a character of its own,” she says. “Some are strong and wild. Others are soft and sweet.”
Shimada says British biking was one of her inspirations. “I imagined an English bad boy, with a punk twist and super-refined details like precious leather and integrated gloves.”
In London, the biker jacket also influenced the latest womenswear collection from husband and wife duo Bolzoni & Walsh. In fact, it has been a part of their range since the label launched in 2011. This season’s looks include an oversized classic biker shape broken up in blocks of shearling and naturally creased heavy cowhide.
“We have taken an iconic classic style, cleaned and freshened it up to give it a modern feel,” says Katie Walsh.
“It exudes rebellion and a free spirit.”
Jaclyn Jones of WGSN adds: “The major update is transitioning the jacket into a coat with longer lengths, while maintaining the true aesthetic of biker details, such as the asymmetric zipper, and oversized lapel, not only in leather but in high-tech fabrics with embossed patterns, cashmere and wool.”