Film, Metal, Jacket: Inside the World of Hollywood’s Most Iconic Leather Jackets

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This weekend, Captain America will burst from the screen in 3D, dispatching Nazis while wearing a spiffy leather jacket.

The last year alone has been a fine one for leather jackets onscreen, including those in Harry Potter, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, Inception, I am Number Four, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Takers, Limitless, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, and The Expendables.

Hollywood has had a longstanding love affair with leather jackets (books have been written on the subject), dating back to the Schott Perfecto motorcycle jackets worn by Marlon Brandon and James Dean.

But nowadays, connecting the hero onscreen with the leather on his (and her) back is a challenge. Enter Filmjackets.com, a website that connects those looking for that big screen coat with those who made it (or who can at least make a passable facsimile).[more]

All of the above-mentioned jackets — Green Lantern, Transformers 3, Tron: Legacy, Wall Street 2, Inception, I am Number Four — have been thoroughly vetted in the forum of Filmjackets.com.

 

Currently, Filmjackets.com users are trying to get to the bottom of not just Captain America‘s brown leather one, but also character Peggy Carter’s.

The site lays out lays out the quandry: “There are so many places you can get jackets that claim to be replicas of your favorite jacket, but a ‘replica’ means different things to different people. Some are looking for jackets made by the original manufacturer that made them for their movie of choice. Others are happy with a ‘close-enough’ knock-off. What we want to do here is provide one website where you can find all of this information and make an informed decision for yourself.”

Filmjackets.com started five years ago as the “5150 Bar & Grill,” named in honor of the Van Halen album. It was designed to be a general discussion forum for anything and everything, says Rick Theriault, the website’s co-founder. His partner, Mike Sicoli, soon introduced a section on leather jackets which took off because, as Rick says, “everyone loves a cool leather jacket.”

Theriault says, “One thing we noticed was that although there were several manufacturers who sold replicas of the jackets that they made for the film industry, there was no single source of information that consolidated all the information. The collective light bulb went off, and Filmjackets.com was born.”

As the site grew, it added a vendor database, where those seeking the jackets they saw in films could filnd them, or find the experts who could craft replicas. In building these relationships, Rick says “they got advertising and we got credibility.”

The list of vendors includes Abbyshot Custom Leathers, which, amongst others, sells a replica of Kaneda’s “Capsule Gang” jacket from Akira. It’s not all leather though; vendor Magnoli Clothiers sells everything one would need to put together a perfect Dark Knight bespoke Joker suit.

Filmjackets.com currently sells three of its own reproductions as well. One is based on Wolverine’s jacket in X-Men: Last Stand. Theriault says there are “almost a dozen others that are in prototype phase and will be added soon.” One reason Filmjackets decided to create their own products was the poor quality offered in the marketplace. He points to multiple versions of “film jackets” that are terrible in both quality and design and are only sold to “make a quick buck from unsuspecting consumers by offering them sub-quality garbage.”

Today, Filmjackets.com gets the inside scoop on all kinds of onscreen costumes. Rick says that sometimes industry pros tip them off to exclusive info on a jacket’s source, while other times “the manufacturer will contact us if it is an off-the-rack jacket.” Costume designers regularly drop the site a line to let them know about the source of a design of where a particular jacket was purchased. Most of this is done in the forums section of the site.

But the lion’s share of identifying jackets is done by the members themselves. A logo, a distinct characteristic such as unique zipper style, or other design element often lead to a positive ID.

In the Filmjackets.com forum, users search for the source of all kinds of (usually leather) jackets. Looking for the background on the leather coat with the tiger patch worn by Murdock in the original 1980s A-Team series? So is user “Pennywise.”

Sometimes it takes a while, but months after Pennywise went searching, user “NESCartFanatic” showed up with the whole history of Murdock’s coats. Turns out, the pedigree of Murdock’s leather coast was far more involved than ever imagined: “Stunt Jacket #2 (Worn while jumping into the ocean (which probably ruined it) Faceman wore this one in an episode as well. Clearly not an Antler jacket, or painted by the original artist of the three original jackets.)”

Prior to World War II, leather jackets were largely utilitarian and uniform, for pilots and policemen (or Bolsheviks). But as the onscreen war hero became a fixture of Hollywood, so did his leather jacket.

Before Indiana Jones, there was Gary Cooper in the film adaption of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. As the hero of the film, Cooper cut a magnificently attractive figure as Robert Jordan, ready to do battle and romance Spanish beauties in his shearling-lined leather jacket. Nominated for nine Oscars, it was the top grossing film of 1943. Every man wanted to be Cooper, and one of the easiest ways to do that was to dress like him.

Things haven’t changed that much since Cooper’s turn as a Spanish war hero. Fonzie’s Happy Days leather jacket is in the Smithsonian, while in Knight Rider, Micahel Knight was described “in shining armour with a leather jacket and a blank check.” In Wild at Heart, Nicholas Cage’s snakeskin jacket was a character in its own right. Twenty years later, a similar design gave Woody Harrelson’s character a quirky edge in Zombieland.

From Top Gun to Minority Report to War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise is one of the most iconic leather-jacketeers working in Hollywood.

More recently, when the X-Men comics finally made the leap to the big screen, the runaway star was anti-hero tough guy Wolverine. Again, the fastest way to “be” Wolverine was to dress like him. His distinct leather jacket made that possible and users flooded the Internet looking for it.

This isn’t to say the leather jackets popularized by the tough guys are the only ones; the category is expansive, and expensive. Ferris Bueller‘s black and white leather jacket was auctioned for a hefty sum; Michael Jackson’s iconic red and black “Thriller” jacket went for $1.8 million.

Theriault’s personal fondness for film jackets began where probably many jacket lovers began, Indiana Jones. Rick says of his first film jacket, “It is absolutely iconic to me. As a result of that movie, I bought my first leather jacket in the early 1980’s, at a shop in Haverhill, Massachusetts called Snyder Leathers. It was a brown leather jacket, and bore absolutely no resemblance to the Indiana Jones jacket.”

Almost twenty years after his first faux Indiana Jones jacket foray, a fortuitous family trip to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular in Orlando turned Theriault on to the search once again. Now empowered by the web, he found out about Wested, the leather-maker responsible for the original Indy coat.

Wested is a Hollywood icon, maker of the famous leather jackets in The Rocketeer, Memphis Belle, James Bond, Minority Report and Doctor Who. More lately, Wested made the coats for several of the characters in X-Men: First Class. Filmjackets.com readers learned about Wested’s latest X-Men outing via an exclusive tip on the forum page.

From there, Theriault’s obsession with film jackets was reborn, and today he owns about 50 leather jackets. While not all of them are versions of film jackets, he does have one of the actual production jackets work by Mel Gibson in the film Lethal Weapon 4. “The value of the jacket probably plummeted once he made a media spectacle of himself a few times,” he says, “but I still love his films and this jacket.”

Theriault says that there are still some jackets out there he would like to know more about. “The Mad Max jackets would be cool to positively ID,” he says. Noting just how inexact the science is, Theriault says that “even the Indiana Jones jacket has a rather convoluted history. As the years went by, more and more manufacturers claim to have had a hand in that jacket.” Of course, Filmjackets.com has “some information from Raiders of the Lost Ark costume designer Deborah Nadoolman-Landis on our site that gives a great history for that jacket.”

Asked what he would call the “white whale” of film jackets, Theriault offers Brad Pitt’s red leather from Fight Club. 

“Legend has it that the Fight Club jacket was found in a thrift shop called Decades by costume designer Michael Kaplan and then reproduced for the film by Jonathan A. Logan,” says Theriault. “But we do not know the original manufacturer.”

A lack of provenance hasn’t stopped a multide of leatherworkers from recreating it, of course, with varying degrees of success.

There is no reason to believe Theriault, Sicoli and the users at Filmjackets are going to have lack of work in the near future.

In the coming months, expect to see new forum entries with film buffs seeing info on leather jackets appearing in Drive, Footloose, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, all of which will continue the tradition of putting some of Hollywood’s hottest in the coolest jackets.

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Rick Theriault’s Top 5 Film Jackets

  • The Raiders of the Lost Ark (Harrison Ford; Wested)
  • The Wild One (Marlon Brando; Schott Perfecto)
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Arnold Schwarzenegger; Bates Custom)
  • House, M.D. (Hugh Laurie; Vanson)
  • War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise; Joanna Johnson & John David Ridge)

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