Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket Showcases History of Iconic Garment

Friday, August 10, 2012

EMP Museum chronicles the fascinating story and evolution of what is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of the 20th century when it opens Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket on October 20, 2012. This major exhibition will feature nearly 60 leather jackets once worn by rock legends, film stars, runway models, and World War II fighter pilots. Worn to be Wild kicks off with Project Leather, a fashion show organized by EMP featuring works by emerging designers from the Pacific Northwest. The show will take place on October 20 at EMP. Tickets go on sale in mid-August.

Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket is presented in partnership with the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and runs through January 13, 2013 at EMP. It’s the first time the complete history of the black leather jacket is being showcased, giving visitors a glimpse into all facets of how the jacket has become a main staple in popular culture.

“This exhibition traces the black leather jacket from its utilitarian roots in the 1920s, protecting bikers and pilots from the elements; to its adoption by celebrities, rock stars and counterculture youth as a symbol of rebellion and cool; to its modern day designs seen on runways and in stores around the world,” notes Jacob McMurray, Senior Curator, EMP Museum.

The jackets featured in Worn to be Wild range from the first leather jacket made by Harley-Davidson in 1929 and other early riding jackets, to artfully adorned punk jackets. Hollywood plays a big role in the collection, featuring jackets worn on the screen and stage by stars like Elvis, Fergie, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator 2), Gene Vincent, Harry Shearer (Spinal Tap), and more. And high fashion stakes its claim in the exhibit with five outfits and leather jackets on loan from French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as jackets by Gianni Versace, Jeremy Scott, and several other designers.

Worn to be Wild uses an amazing array of garments with unique stories to depict the role the black leather jacket has played in popular culture,” said Jim Fricke, Curatorial Director at the Harley-Davidson Museum. “With materials on loan from around the world – including key pieces from EMP, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and Jean Paul Gaultier – the exhibit is the first comprehensive look at the impact of this iconic jacket. The combination of motorcycling, pop culture and fashion will appeal to a wide audience.”

In addition to the jackets, the exhibition will feature classic motorcycles including a 1920 JH-D pristine condition early Harley model and Elvis Presley’s 1956 Harley-Davidson KH motorcycle. Another Harley will be on-site for visitors to sit on for photos.


EMP is a leading-edge, nonprofit museum, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel popular culture. With its roots in rock ‘n’ roll, EMP serves as a gateway museum, reaching multigenerational audiences through our collections, exhibitions, and educational programs, using interactive technologies to engage and empower our visitors. At EMP, artists, audiences, and ideas converge, bringing understanding, interpretation, and scholarship to the popular culture of our time. EMP is housed in a 140,000 square-foot Frank O. Gehry-designed building. This spectacular, prominently visible structure has the presence of a monumental sculpture set against the backdrop of the Seattle Center.


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