In 1914, Irving and Jack Schott started a business down in the Lower East Side making raincoats. 100 years later, last month, Schott NYC celebrated its centennial by opening its first retail store not far from their original L.E.S. digs, on Elizabeth Street.
If you haven’t heard of Schott, its pretty likely you already know about the jackets that made them famous. Schott is one of those companies that has been quietly influencing and defining what the world thinks of as “Americana” before anybody even realized that America had a style. We are fortunate enough to include the Schott team among our friends here at BKDG, so to wish them a ‘Happy Birthday’, we have decided to celebrate their first 100 years with some week-long love on the blog.
I am going to start here with a brief history of the company, but it should be said that the definitive, complete Schott story has already been written. Last year, author Rin Tanaka released the official Schott bible, “100 Years of An American Original,” which catalogues pretty much everything that they have ever done. It’s an insanely well-done book and has more drool-worthy photos of leather jackets and dudes wearing leather jackets than has probably ever been put in one place. Tanaka also included pictures of most of the tags and labels that they used through the years, which we have found is really helpful when trying to date a vintage piece.
Schott has been a name that has long been associated with motorcycle jackets, however well before they got involved in the motorcycle business, the company had already made a name for itself — they were actually the first company to introduce a zipper closure to a jacket, which considering, is pretty groundbreaking. American motorcycle manufacturing was getting a foothold in the US around the time the company was founded, and the family Schott introduced the first “Perfecto” jacket. Borrowing the name from their favorite type of cigar, the Schott brothers sold their jackets under the “Perfecto” brand because they thought guys wouldn’t be into their real name.
The Schott brand had already become a staple of the motorcycle community when WWII began. Schott had to direct its efforts toward designing and building bomber jackets for fighter pilots and wool peacoats for the navy. 60 years later Schott continues to hold US military contracts for these jackets. Within Schott’s extensive archives are several examples of the hand painted bomber jackets like the one shown above. So at this point Schott was already producing several of the jackets that we now consider absolute classics of Americana style.
The 1950s witnessed the rise of that rock and roll, hot rod, tough guy aesthetic. Famously, the iconic film, The Wild One, debuted in 1953 & starred young Marlon Brando as a badass biker that epitomized the rebel attitude of the time. The Perfecto One Star motorcycle jacket that Brando wore in the movie became the de facto uniform for rebelling teenagers, to the point that school boards were banning the jackets outright. This had the unintended consequence of instantly boosting the exposure and cementing the infamy of the Schott jacket. James Dean, the Rebel Without a Cause, was reportedly hardly ever seen without his Perfecto #651 (the jacket he is wearing in the photo below. Schott isnt currently selling the #651, so I included a different model, but rumor has it they are planning a re-release).
This rebel reputation was carried through the 70s and 80s by the punk movement, who emblazoned their Perfectos with studs, patches, paint, and most likely blood from the floor of some Bowery dive bar. The Ramones (below), the Sex Pistols, Joan Jett, Blondie, and dozens of other iconic bands have worn their iconic MC jackets (& later this week we’ll introduce you to a Schott jacket out of our own collection an example of a customized moto jackets from back in the day).
The story of Schott is really one about innovation, the company continues to make and sell its classic patterns, but is also constantly developing and testing new styles as well. The opening of their new store means that some incredible new designs are sure to follow. WIth that, there is no spic and span way to wrap up this short history of the brand simply because Schott’s history is still in the making. As it is, 100 years later, and the Family Schott is still just getting started on some very important projects. We are happy that a company based on exceptional taste, honest people, and high quality craftsmanship is still as important as ever. Happy Birthday, Schott NYC.
WORDS: BRADLEY GEE