Iconic Leather Jackets in Music and Cinema

Posted on 19/07/14

No matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to the cinema, or seen a band play live, you can probably think of at least one iconic leather jacket from the worlds of music and cinema. They don’t have to be anything flashy – Indiana Jones’ hardly was, neither was Schwarzenegger’s Terminator jacket – but they embed themselves in our mind’s eye, surfacing again when we need inspiration for fancy dress parties.

Here are but five of the iconic leather jackets in music and cinema, as worn by six characters and musicians. If there are any sore omissions in the line-up, feel free to set us right over Twitter.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men (2000) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Though perhaps not a jacket at the forefront of your mind when you think of iconic leather jackets in music and cinema, Wolverine’s leather jackets are scene-stealers. Eschewing the gaudy yellow and blue spandex and fur-trimmed casual jacket of the comics, the costume designers for the first X-Men film wanted to ease audiences into the idea of a fleet of nature-defying superheroes with full leather body suits that didn’t look too anachronistic, given the comparatively serious tone of the film compared to the source material.

Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Hugh Jackman in promotional material for X-Men (2000)

Hugh Jackman in promotional material for X-Men (2000)

They arrived at full leather body suits serving as each X-person’s battle gear, and fitted Wolverine with his own casual leather number that varied ever so slightly between the first film and the Wolverine-centric X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Three elements of the jacket remained constant between the two films – the three yellow stripes on each arm, each stripe representing one of Wolverine’s famous adamantium claws, the yellow band around the waist and the front diagonal zips on either side of the main central zip. All that changed between the two films was the collar and yellow back panel accents.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix (2000), The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Disappointing though some aspects of the full Matrix trilogy were, the sequels continued to excel in two areas – fast, precise action and the striking aesthetic. The contrast between the slick, unreal Matrix world with the gritty, post-apocalyptic ‘real world’ was evident, not only in the sets and costumes themselves, but in the very filters applied to the camera lenses as well.

Though Keanu Reeve’s Neo character quickly deviated from leather to a priest-like cassock in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, Lawrence Fishburne’s Morpheus, according to the film’s costume designer Kym Barrett, “always maintains his poise”. His leather trench coat, textured to look like crocodile skin, and made from a fabric that was printed specifically for the films, reflects Morpheus’ confidence – not only in himself and his abilities, but also in his conviction that Neo is the One, the saviour of mankind.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in promotional material for The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in promotional material for The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix (2000)

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix (2000)

It’s not a look that just anyone can pull off, admittedly. Plus I imagine there would be little need for the average person’s garb to be designed to accommodate wire-based martial arts displays in slow motion, like Morpheus’ was, but Morpheus’ jacket, and in fact, the costume designs of The Matrix as a whole, are undoubtedly memorable, and desirable in terms of replication.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Temple of Doom (1984), Last Crusade (1989) and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

We had to come to a more obvious choice at some point, didn’t we? Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is not unlike Fishburne’s Morpheus, insofar as Jones is as instantly-recognisable from his silhouette at Morpheus is, if not more so. Even before you describe Jones’ character, you describe his clothing. His fedora, his whip, his satchel and his ever-iconic jacket – they’re permanently etched into the public consciousness.

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Though perhaps not as tailored and unique as Wolverine or Morpheus’ jackets, the beauty of Jones’ brown leather bomber jacket is its simplicity. It’s not fussy, it’s not affected, it’s an everyman’s jacket. You could find a jacket just like it on the rails of any leather company worth its salt. It also serves as a constant visual reminder of Jones’ adventures past and present, and in some respects of Jones himself. It’s well worn in, weathered, creased and battered. It’s been through hell and back, and Jones has been with it every step of the way.

Despite that heritage, that history, it isn’t covered in hasty patches and stitches. At a quick glance, it certainly doesn’t look like it’s borne witness to the same scrapes that Jones himself has, it’s ready for another adventure, even if Jones himself isn’t.

Michael Jackson as himself in Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)

Proclaimed to be “the greatest piece of rock and roll memorabilia in history” by Lady Gaga, the jacket’s current owner (well, she owns one of two of them, at least), who could forget Jackson’s bright red leather Thriller jacket, covered with zips and finished with a black “M” logo across the chest and arms?

Michael Jackson surrounded by zombies in a promotional photoshoot for Thriller (1983)

Michael Jackson in Thriller (1983)

Funnily enough, the Thriller jacket was designed by Deborah Landis, the same designer who designed Indiana Jones’ jacket. This jacket was one of, if not the hottest fad of the mid 1980s, and artists continue to nod to it and pay tribute to it today.

Kanye West wearing a loosely Thriller-inspired getup

Kanye West wearing a loosely Thriller-inspired getup

This is even before we consider the sheer volume of imitations and replicas available, from the convincing to the dubious. The situation got so out of hand in fact, that in 1984 Jackson filed a lawsuit in New York City in an attempt to prevent unauthorised copies of his merchandise. Though considering that the jacket sold for a staggering $1.8 million, it’s no wonder people might be looking for more affordable alternatives for Halloween parties.

The concept for Thriller originally came from concept art intended to tie in with the re-release of Disney’s Fantasia. It was director John Landis (Deborah Landis’ husband) who decided to add a love interest to the story, the idea being that it would make Jackson appear more masculine. Deborah wanted to further enhance this image by creating a jacket that was “graphic and structural”, producing a “good silhouette”. The V on the body of the jacket, as well as forming part of the “M” in Michael, “echoes the pyramidal shape of the choreography” – referring to Michael being at the head of the chevron, while the group works their way down the street towards the camera.

The story behind the choice of colour for the jacket is much more clear-cut. It was simply chosen to counteract the darkness and fog of the set. Interestingly, Jackson’s Thriller gear was his first red costume, and represented a departure for him in that it was free of studs, chains – any of the accoutrements that would have been typically associated with a Michael Jackson outfit at the time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and The Ramones

Bringing the worlds of music and cinema colliding together is one iconic jacket, the Schott Perfecto, or at least a Perfecto-inspired design. Starting with The Ramones, their New York music club debut was made all the more impactful by their adopted uniform combining leather and denim. Punk Magazine co-founder Legs McNeil said, of The Ramones’ first major gig: “They were all wearing these black leather jackets…it was just this wall of noise…They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new”.

Ramones1

The Ramones

Tommy Ramone described the band’s style as one based on a philosophy of “eliminating the unnecessary and [focusing] on the substance” – a philosophy which applies equally well to the band’s wardrobe and their raw sound. It also applies to Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, in fact.

Though Schwarzenegger’s attire in the original Terminator film was perhaps dictated by happenstance rather than for its aesthetic and practical advantages – with him intimidating a group of young punks into handing over their clothes. Schwarzenegger’s biker gear was functional, efficient, free of bells and whistles. It served a singular purpose, to help preserve the thin fleshy coating around the Terminator’s steely core, allowing him to focus on the assassination job in hand. The all-black exterior, plus the sheer size of Schwarzenegger’s frame made him monolithic and intimidating. He oozed cool, both in his appearance and his calculated, robotic delivery.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in promotional material for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in promotional material for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

In both Schwarzenegger and The Ramones’ case, there was little more that needed doing other than putting the jacket on. Both of them were defined by their actions and their output rather than a carefully constructed appearance. Yet despite not paying attention their appearances, their respective looks could still be readily identified by even the most out-of-touch of dinosaurs.

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