The Modern Knights : Symbolism and Appropriation of the Motorcycle Clubs
The goal of this project was to design a fashion collection inspired by the style and symbolism of the biker culture without portraying them in a manner that is disorienting or insulting. I’ve designed an MC patch based on the fashion brand logo (Burberry) in order to demonstrate how appropriation works in an opposite way. I’ve also stressed the connection between the MC culture and the medieval knighthood by incorporating the elements of their dress in my collection, which, I believe, highlights such noble aspects of the MC culture as loyalty, unity, readiness to support each other and honor of their traditions, other than aggressiveness and sex appeal that the fashion industry accentuates.
Synopsis: The outlaw biker culture seems to have nothing in common with the glamour of haute couture, yet the evidence shows exactly the opposite. In 2010, one of the most notorious motorcycle clubs, Hells Angels, sued Alexander McQueen for using their insignia in the collection designed for Saks – and won the case. This was not the only time fashion designers appropriated the symbolism of the motorcycle gangs, with the classic leather jacket being the most famous example. The image of a biker-rebel was picked up by the fashion world after the release of “The Wild One” (1953) starring Marlon Brando, and has been gaining popularity ever since. The biker style has influenced the look of other sub-cultures such as punk, heavy metal, leather subculture and cybergoth. Although it generally exists as a negative stereotype in the public’s subconscious, the outlaw biker style has inspired several fashion brands, such as John Varvatos and Saint Laurent. The appearance has been exploited by the fashion industry bringing it into legal conflict with some clubs and simultaneously encouraging a cultural specific fetishistic look that conveys sex, danger, rebelliousness, masculinity, and working class values.
History: The insignia, or “colors”, of the serious MCs is an important symbolic aspect that stands for their identification as a “brotherhood”, which has its roots in the military history. The practice of using symbolic images to identify one’s belonging to a group (or, in the past, an army) can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, but it was not until the Middle Ages and the emergence of heraldry when people started to put these images on their clothes. During the WWI and WWII, the practice of putting images on the back of leather jackets spread amongst the pilots, many of which later formed the first motorcycle clubs and took the tradition with them.
Project: The appropriation of the outlaw biker culture in fashion is a two-sided medal. On the one hand, it popularizes the culture and enables people to express their sympathy without being involved in the motorcycle practices. On the other hand, it’s often portrayed in an exaggerated extra-glamorous way, which goes against the basic principles of the MCs. No wonder that the appropriation of the MC insignia gives so much trouble to the fashion brands. Not only is it illegal (all colors are reserved as trademarks), but also deeply insulting for the club members who spent years proving themselves worthy of their patches.