The Enduring Spirit of the Schott Perfecto

The Perfecto: it’s the stylistic equivalent of a kicked-in Marshall amplifier, buzzing with wattage and limitless potential. And, admittedly, at thirty-two—I’ve merely dreamed of places like CBGB; the legendary forum of rockers, their black motorcycle jackets, and the tessellating backdrop of speaker cones.

Deeply rooted in American consciousness, from Brando to Ramone to Gosling, it’s still the de facto rebel armor after sixty years and counting. Impossibly, it looks equally as good in the cocktail bar as the dive bar.

It cannot be improved: the asymmetrical zip ingeniously cuts wind while riding (or pub-crawling in the East Village), the epaulets add a military edge, and the coin pocket has been holding my subway cards and house keys since day one. Schott has made a few tweaks to fit over the years, but the 618 stands as the original: immaculately conceived.

The 618 is offered in two builds: heavy and heavier. While the traditional, heavyweight steerhide is a commitment analogous to marriage, the horsehide is like joining a monastery—and loving a challenge I naturally prefer the latter. The hide shines like a pair of cordovan shoes initially, and through sheer repeated violence breaks into a second skin over time.

The proportions are almost perfect out of the gate. There’s a certain boxiness that softens with wear. Every embellishment is there for a reason. It’s a real motorcycle jacket, meaning, you’ll keep most of your skin if you hit the pavement, which for most guys is just good-to-know. Snaps fasten the collar down for riding in wind—they just happen to look cool. I could go on and on about vents and zipper angles.

Many of the big fashion houses produce some variation on the Perfecto. Sometimes they get awfully close, but the price ironically exceeds quadruple the real thing. That’s like paying top dollar to see a Rolling Stones cover band. You should not feel this garment is precious. It’s to be worn carelessly, rebelliously, and hard. It can rest thrown over a barstool, hung on a doorknob, or on a wire hanger in the coat check at the House of Blues. Schott’s pieces border on the indestructible with minor care and I find the sub $800 price point a fine investment when spread over a lifetime of use.

Ideally, you’d want to find one lightly used, where the last guy collapsed in a heap before the finish line. His loss is your gain: the horsehide takes months, not weeks, to break in. That’s where I found mine. Just make sure there aren’t dry patches on the leather, that’s a sure sign of neglect. I’ve known guys to sleep in their Perfectos to speed up the whole process. If you’ve ever owned a baseball glove, you know the multiple layers of voodoo required for a good break-in.

I’m athletic, and I still size down, you want this thing to be affixed to your body in the early stages. Even though it’s horse, it will relax like calfskin at the elbows and shoulders eventually. The Perfecto doesn’t run short, it is short which is to make the forward leaning rider stance comfortable without bunching. This of course is the secret to the cropped, cool look off of the bike. You’re likely shorter than Joey Ramone, anyway.

A perfectly broken-in Schott has the unexplainable magic of always looking dressed up. With black jeans and English monk straps you could easily walk the red carpet. With cuffed selvedge denim and tennis sneakers, you’re the coolest guy at the bar. With simple prints and patterns it’s the secret sauce. A little dash of rebellion—one hand off the clutch lever— even at the office happy hour.