Why do we all love Marianne Faithfull? Surely it’s because she is a survivor. Not in a desperate, hanging-on way, or because she harks back to the Rolling Stones days, but because she is whatever person she wants to be, whenever she wants to be it.
But it is as a biker chick, as shown here in 1968, that she gets the loudest cheer, possibly because, when she was singing her artless little songs of love in the 1960s, the biker world was an entirely masculine one.
In the early 1990s, leather made a triumphant comeback – regaining a status it hadn’t held since 1960, when Yves Saint Laurent launched the Beat collection for Christian Dior, which got him into so much trouble and ended his career at the house.
Times have changed – and so have women. They now search for individual style that is not a crazy, transient statement but a declaration of confidence. They want clothes that will reflect their inner strength, and leather does that, by taking the extremes of masculinity and colonising them for women. A biker jacket and peaked cap worn with a romantic taffeta evening skirt, or a softly layered chiffon dress with biker boots – that was the new syntax for urban chic in the 1990s, and the sensibility that created such visual paradoxes is with us again now.
It’s that contrast of hard and soft – raunchy, trashy, even – that is back on the catwalks in a big way, at the very moment, curiously, when the butch homoeroticism of the muscular gay is becoming the basis of the male biker world once again. With leather, as with so many other aspects of the masculine wardrobe, the field is open for a full-on female assault on the dodgy bastions of masculinity.
(First published August 2007)