The History of Leather Part 18 – The Perfecto

Posted on 27/07/14

The perfect Perfecto (1928)

The Schott Perfecto is a jacket that needs no introduction. It’s the original motorcycle jacket, still made and sold today. Born in an era where motorbikes had only just become commercially available, where even zips weren’t commonplace. A rare product that absolutely wasn’t a product of its time, but a product of, and believe me I’m cringing as a write this, so I can’t even begin to imagine how you might cringe as you read this… a product of the future.

Opening their first factory in the Lower East Side of Manhattan under the name Schott Bros., Irving and Jack Schott’s beginnings and career trajectory is a pitch perfect example of the American dream in action. The first items off the production line were Irvin-inspired sheepskin-lined raincoats, which they then sold door to door. Once the money starting rolling in, the brothers established the “Perfecto” brand – named after Irving’s favourite cigars – and applied the brand to their top-of-the-line raincoats.

Of course, “Perfecto” as we know it today only describes a diagonally-zipped cut of jacket, rather than an entire range of products. “Perfecto” has become the “Hoover” or the “Sellotape” of the leather jacket world. Distinguished company, I think you’ll agree.

Until Irving Schott’s Perfecto graced the world stage of motorcycling garb, there wasn’t any kind of outerwear that provided ample protection from bumps, scrapes and inevitable elemental barrages, all whilst accommodating the standard riding position. Previous motorbike jackets were made of wool, and as such offered little protection from the biting high-speed wind, or from apocalyptic rainstorms for that matter.

The Perfecto was designed to be practical, free of excessive design flourishes – everything had a purpose. Perhaps the key feature of the Perfecto is the diagonal zip, which as well as blocking out the wind, also ensures that the jacket doesn’t bunch up when the rider mounts their hog.

It’s a design that has been widely reinterpreted by fashion designers, and a ripped off by shady, nameless outfits stocking the budget clothes shops of the world, but a timeless design nonetheless. But how did a utilitarian motorcycle jacket break into the mainstream? I’m glad you asked – fast forward to 1953, where we’ll discuss Marlon Brando’s character, Johnny Strabler, in “The Wild One”.

(Header image: Triton Rocker under CC Attribution 3.0)

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