Loving the Leather

Catherine Keighery

Catherine Keighery

Lucy Liu rocked it hard in Charlie’s Angels – presenting to the boardroom in black leather blouse/jacket and pencil skirt – and there’s likely not one of us who doesn’t associate this material with sexy toughness… but maybe feel a little intimidated about wearing it well.

This reluctance is recent though, especially considering the fact that our ancestors have been wearing leather for at least 50,000 years! The tanning process of making leather became far more refined through the ages and different cultures, reaching a historical peak with the talents of Native American tribes who introduced early Europeans to detailed decoration and fine white leather, which is extremely difficult to achieve through natural tanning techniques.

The wearing of leather came to represent status and luxury, due to the high cost and craftsmanship involved in making and working with it, and this has followed through to high fashion couture collections as a staple. European designers such as Versace, Armani, Fendi, Gucci, and Hermès took the lead in leather apparel design through the 1980s, and by the mid 80s they were joined by the likes of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan.

Leather jackets in particular are just classic cool, everyone knows it and nobody would even question it anymore. Never mind the bad boy leather-clad lads though – women have been rocking the look from Amelia Earhart in her aviator chic, to Joan Jett, Debbie Harry and of course Madonna as queens of the 80s. In the 90s it was the essential down-time duty piece for models like Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss, and pop stars all over the place. This decade then saw an upturn and wider availability that’s showing us leather somewhere in nearly every season’s collections.

Some of it, as we saw in this season’s Stranger Styles, is on the extreme side. Most of us don’t want to dress like a vampire dominatrix (there’s a time and a place like), or look as if someone’s been hacking at your dress with a scissors, thanks very much. But we love, love, love the softer leather looks in the shops this season that give the material such everyday wearability.

Of course one of the problems with real leather is the care it requires, which isn’t for everyone… and although the material is usually a by-product of food production, vegetarians or vegans can’t touch the stuff, with some of the reported production techniques raising questions for all of us. This is where our PU (poly synthetic leather) and leatherette trends come into their own. All of the gorgeous looks, with none of those messy moralistic or care concerns.

Instead of going for full buckled biker jacket, why not try a softer sleeve with structured shoulders – the perfect modernised nod to the 80s power suit? You can get the instant cool effect in a pleated midi skirt and still be grand for the office or the family occasion. And if you’re feeling ready for the full on Lucy Liu… go for it girl!


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