Sunday, March 13, 2016

In Review: Schott 619 Hand Oiled Lightweight Brown Naked Perfecto

Marlon Brando in his Schott Perfecto
Irving Schott got his start in 1913 working out of the Lower East Side selling raincoats door to door with his brother Jack. Schott was certainly never afraid of innovation, and a three years after becoming the first to put zippers into use on jackets in 1925, he designed and created a new distinctive, shorter length motorcycle jacket, naming it the "Perfecto" after his favorite cigar as he didn't think his Jewish name would sell well. Selling for $5.50, the jacket was an instant success, and it would continue to only grow in popularity throughout the years. In 1954, Marlon Brando wore a 618 steerhide Perfecto in the film "The Wild One," catapulting the popularity of the jacket to new highs. Sine that time, the Schott Perfecto has been incorporated into the very fabric of Americana - worn by people from just about every walk of life, plucked out of the motorcycle world and beloved for its bold styling, tough character, and touch of rebellion.

I bought my Perfecto during one of the past Mr. Porter sales in 2014. Somewhat awkwardly named the "hand oiled lightweight brown naked Perfecto," it's a special 619 model made with full aniline cowhide, a lean but classic silhouette, and all the things we've come to love about arguably the most famous leather jacket ever made.

Aside from this one, maybe.

Cha' mone!


Materials and Construction


There's a quote I once heard about cooking I think also applies to leather: "Start with good ingredients, and try not to f*** them up." I think we've all had the experience of finding something that looked good until you got up close, picked it up, and felt it. Your fingers knew immediately what your eyes couldn't; it felt and moved like a linoleum floor. You can't fake good ingredients, no matter how you dress them up, and with leather doubly so. That's why bad leather feels so chillingly awful and ages like Keith Richards.

The leather on the naked hand-oiled Perfecto is the star of the show, featuring full-aniline aka "naked" cowhide (not covered with a protective coat like semi-aniline), drum-dyed and hand-oiled with a really nice pull-up (the "pull-up" effect shows as instilled oils get redistributed when the leather bends, resulting in lighter shades at the creases that change dynamically over time and use). The jacket itself is actually surprisingly heavy for something called "lightweight cowhide," likely a result of the oiling process, and feels smooth and supple - yet unmistakably substantial. You would never mistake it for lambskin, for example. Given the nature of the leather finishing, there's nowhere to hide imperfections on this type of leather, so Schott only uses their best hides for these jackets. This is actually one major reason that they cost so much more than their standard models. Aside from always wanting a Perfecto, the nature of aniline is one of the primary reasons I was drawn to the jacket.

On the other hand, I think I've mentioned before that this leather is certainly not for everyone. If someone were to say "I think it's ugly," who am I to argue? The oiling process results in the leather surface being slightly more reflective in harsh light. It also marks if you even look at it wrong (though those marks can generally be healed by rubbing your thumb over the area), and if you want your leather to look and remain pristine you literally couldn't make a worse choice.

However, oiled aniline also results in a tremendous depth of color, with tones ranging from deep brown to shades of burgundy and burnt umber. It's similar in color distribution to a waxed cloth jacket but in a different palette than you're used to seeing on cotton. Like the last light of a post-apocalyptic sunset, it's gorgeous, if you're into that type of thing.

The design of the jacket is classic Perfecto with a few modern tweaks. Based on the classic 618 Perfecto, it's easily recognizable by the asymmetric front zip panel which forms something called a "lancer front" designed for wind-proofing, finished with a snap-down collar, epaulets, and hefty lapels. However, the 619 model is a little more streamlined with slimmer arms, an added belt snap at the mid torso to keep the belt in place when unfastened, and a slightly longer torso compared to the original. The sleeves incorporate rear-facing zippers, and the back is constructed with a bi-swing, which is a deep pleat on each side starting at the waistline and extending up to the shoulders for ease of movement. Unlike the standard version on Schott's website, which is lined in plaid cotton, the Mr. Porter version is lined in a more understated solid deep burgundy.

All the hardware is solid brass compared to the traditional chrome finishings associated with the style, and there's a map pocket on the left chest with a smaller coin flap at the waist - a feature that was initially a custom option in the early 50's and later put into the production on all Perfecto jackets. Under the back collar, there's a single snap where a mouton collar (sheepskin processed to resemble beaver fur) can be attached. Schott only sells an acrylic mouton version at the moment, though old forum posts on their site indicate they may be able to make a genuine sheepskin one if requested.


Stitching and construction are rock solid - zippers articulate well, seams are clean, snaps hold strongly, and after over a year of regular use, the jacket pretty much looks the same as the day I bought it. It seems like every clothing brand seems to feel the need to bring out their own version of a leather jacket or double rider at some point, but compared to anything you could find at a mainstream general clothing retailer there is a noticeable increase in overall build and material quality. I could imagine this jacket outliving me - it really does have that type of feel about it.


Fit and Sizing




I stand a slouchy 6 ft tall, 155 lbs, and I take a 36R in most suiting or a small in most casual shirting. For the 619 Perfecto, size small fits me well - fitted throughout the sleeves and torso without being overly constricting or skinny. In fact, I think it fits me so well that I had one of those rare moments we've all experienced at some point putting on something for the first time, looking in the mirror, and thinking "yes"...I might have even said it out loud. I imagine it feels a bit like zipping up a modern suit of armor, or what Superman must feel like when he strips down to...his spandex thingy Batman must feel like when he puts on his Batsuit.

Now, if we're talking about the quintessential Perfecto, it would easily be black. I would actually go so far as to say if you don't own any leather jackets, black should be your first consideration. It's very easy to wear casually but also dresses up surprisingly well - a big part of the reason it's remained so popular over the years. The brown lies somewhere in between, though tethered closer to the casual end of things, especially with this specific type of leather finishing and the toned down brass finishing. I've found it settles in comfortably with most casual Americana and things that have a lived-in, vintage feel or design.



Impressions and Value




I can't think of many other items of clothing that have passed through time as untouched as the Perfecto line while still remaining perennially in style. Look how suit designs have changed over the past 50 years, for example. Perhaps the Levi's Type III denim "Trucker" jacket can claim that as well, but where the denim jacket is an "everyman" sort of piece, the Perfecto is a jacket for that little part of what every man aspires to be. Sure, there are a gazillion other leather jackets that have come out since its release that draw anything from rough inspiration to a straight facsimile of the design, but the original has never lost its appeal throughout an otherwise tumultuous landscape over the years. That's incredible. Some guys might say they'd feel weird in a biker jacket because they don't have a motorcycle, but the Perfecto double rider style broke free of that restriction so quickly that it's been a classic menswear staple now for decades across the board.

The Ramones in Schott Perfectos

There are also many that take a hard line regarding leather quality and reaching certain minimum standards for purchasing. This is very easy to do for something like a belt or even shoes without exceeding a budget of much more than $100-200. It becomes a much more difficult task to achieve with leather garments, and many using Schott as the gatekeeper of quality in the market. That's a tough bar for a lot of guys to reach, understandably, so I understand when people can't or won't put that much money towards it. I also think the demonization of cheaper leather goes a bit overboard, in general. However, I think you'll find that the investment in quality is worth it if you can afford it.

Bruce Springsteen in a One Star Perfecto

Elvis Presley in Perfecto
If you are having trouble affording a leather jacket, one fortunate byproduct of the longevity of leather products is the widespread availability of secondhand jackets on the market. This can be a good way of lowering the cost of entry significantly, though it adds a bit of risk in finding a good example in the fit and model you want as well as the general risk associated with buying anything off eBay or Grailed. Like anything else, you have to do your homework, but the value in vintage or secondhand items is very high when the job is done diligently.

Schott prices their leather jackets starting in the mid $600's, though you can find them on sale for less if you're patient. The Naked Hand Oiled Perfecto currently retails for $1100, at the upper end of their pricing bracket and much more than I would have been willing to pay purely from a personal spending threshold. However, I snatched it up during the 2014 Mr. Porter sale for $525 (50% off $1050 MSRP at the time), and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It's difficult to find clothing with real soul and emotion to it, as silly as that might sound, but I think we all look for those intangible qualities. This jacket makes me feel like riding into war swinging a battleaxe on the back of a fire breathing grizzly shark. It makes me want to grease up my hands and build a motorcycle with nothing but Thor's hammer, pure brawn I don't possess, and knowledge that I don't have. It makes me want to grow the magnificent beard I've never been able to but that I know I damn deserve.

James Dean in Perfecto
Here's a quote from Schott NYC as they recently celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2013:

There is a feeling with putting on a Perfecto that cannot be replicated or described. It is a persona, the history of America's bad boy, seeped into the heavy cowhide and chrome hardware.

That's basically what I said, right?









Things I Liked


  • Classic design in an updated silhouette
  • Tough as nails construction
  • Beautiful leather
 

Things I Didn't Like


  • It's expensive
  • Naked aniline leather has a hate-it-or-love-it quality
  • Black is the more iconic choice

Others to Consider


Context Clothing x Schott CXL 113
  • Other Schott Perfecto variants - cheaper, not better or worse, but different. You can find these at many third party merchants on sale from time to time, so worth taking a look around before purchasing. For instance, Context Clothing in the Midwest is selling this Chromexcel natural horsefront leather Perfecto with a D-pocket that makes me want to cry. Don't forget there are a good amount of used and vintage Perfectos that come through the secondhand online market if you're a hunter on a budget. Sizing variation can be a bit of an issue though on vintage models, so I'd strongly suggest doing some homework on models you're interested in.
  • Aero Leathers - High quality manufacturers based in Scotland who make classic leather jackets in many vintage styles since the 1980's. More expensive, in general, but great vintage designs.
  • Vanson Leathers - This site wins the award for the worst product presentation since the 1990's when it appears the site was designed and model pictures taken. The double rider section is literally named "Rockers" with a picture of some dude wearing what looks like skeleton painted gloves and late-in-life Michael Jackson hair. Bearing that in mind, Vanson supposedly makes high quality jackets, including some "Brando" models that reference you-know-what.
  • Independent Designers and Mainstream Retailers - There's no shortage of double rider jackets available seasonally from non-leather focused designers/stores. Most seem to have a more minimal, "modern" aesthetic, though variability in design and build quality is obviously vast.

Thoughts/questions/throw it in my face that you own the CXL 113 above? Drop me a line or comment below.

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