Love for Leathers
It all started with that double-breasted jacket from Kuhn’s in downtown Champaign that I bought for $100 when I was 15 years old. The jacket traveled to Woodstock, Stockholm, Mexico and also crisscrossed the country several times via hitch-hiking. I still have it in my closet today, although some segments have disintegrated, even though I took great care to keep it well-oiled, which is why it still survives.
In the later sixties, as we shifted from skateboards to cheap Japanese motorcycles (which could be had for a few hundred dollars), I’m sorry to admit I pulled some crazy stunts, one of which I regret, namely the time I attempted a wheelie with Carole on the back and flipped the bike, severely injuring her ankle in the process. When I discovered she was in pain and couldn’t walk, I carried her home in my arms, while promising myself never to pull another stunt like that again.
So that was end of daredevil activities with passengers, but I still knew the importance of having a layer of extra skin protection while riding. Plus those skins seemed to carry some ceremonial significance. I’m a big believer in non-violence, and like to maintain a mostly-vegan lifestyle, but I could never give up my leathers. In fact, I can clue you into where to find the best in the world.
After I moved to New York and got a job at High Times, I wanted to get a replica of the same jacket I’d worn for the last 20 years, as I knew it wasn’t going to last forever. My friend Allegra suggested a girl named Agatha, a former topless dancer who was making vests for the Hell’s Angels at the time. Agatha had never made a jacket (yet) and she was happy to take on the assignment. The result (left) will probably last a few hundred years. Unlike the fragile goatskin used for that Chicago-South-Side-Black-Panther special, Agatha used the finest black leather she could find. The jacket has lots of custom details, like a zip-out liner and zippers on the arms to make it more motorcycle friendly. The following year, I commissioned her to make me a complete leather outfit for Rainbow Gatherings. The top was mostly natural brain-tanned leather, which is off-white and feels like a baby’s blanket. I had a choice between a very expensive deer hide or split cowhide for the pants and trim. I saved a few hundred by going with the cheaper hide, but certainly regret that move today. Today, Agatha’s outfits sell for thousands of dollars in the finest boutiques. I sometimes wonder what my jacket and Indian-style outfit are worth today, considering she’s become one of the most celebrated leather designers in the country.
But if you want to buy a set of leathers for riding motorcycles, there’s really only one place to go: Langlitz Leathers in Portland, Oregon. My brother turned me onto this company thirty years ago and I immediately had a full suit made with all the do-dahs. Many years later, I decided the jacket was too heavy and too short in back and the pants needed to be more tapered. Langlitz made a new jacket from scratch and altered the pants and charged me nothing. Alterations are free for life, apparently. And the leather is thick and not heavily-treated, which means it will last several lifetimes.
Good leather boots are another essential item, and increasingly hard to find. You can see me wearing my Stewart’s in the photo above. For over 35 years, I would never consider buying any other brand of boot. Stewart’s is a family-run company in Tucson, Arizona, and they have been making custom-made cowboy boots longer than anyone else. All their boots are double lined with the best leathers. I discovered the brand one day in a shop on St. Mark’s Place and was amazed at how soft and flexible the leather was. The solid black with Cuban heels version I bought that day reminded some people of Beatle boots. I ruined that first pair, however, by having them polished with convention polishes, which drys out the leather and leads to cracking and splitting. Most Stewart boots are made of horse-hide and never treated with chemicals like commercial cowhide. The finish is half-way from Indian-leather to commercial hides. Consequently, the boots just need to be oiled once a month to look good as new. I’ve purchased a total of four pairs over the last 35 years and I highly recommend them, although you’ll probably have to wait six months or so for delivery. If they do wear-out, send them back and they will re-foot them for a fee.