The medium of fashion relies on aesthetic presentation. Texture, silhouettes, colors, motion, and technology drive it. The zipper first appeared in 1851 as a technological solution to opening and closing the placket on blue jeans, and since this moment zippers have been present at so many major moments in history, fashion and otherwise.
Zippers were an integral part of the technology that let humans explore space; without them, we never would have had Marlon Brando’s iconic bike jacket look of the 1950s. Thinking of the zipper conjures up images of Hunter S. Thompson’s fabled photographs and words about the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club’s wear in the 1960s, just as much as it foregrounds a Dior Couture Runway show.
They were intelligent insertions in the garments of Dior, Givenchy, and Helmut Lang, and the zipper appeared on the Andy Warhol designed cover art for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Finger, a seminal touchstone in the pop culture era. They are an inextricable part of our everyday lives and history, of our movies, sports, military, undergarments, our suitcases. Zippers are integral in the architecture of the consumer products on which we all rely.
Rolling Stones’ Sticky Finger
Zippers became a part of the everyday Western experience with consumer products beginning in 1936, when Mr. Yoshida Todoa formed the now nearly monolithic zipper company, YKK. This company’s name is the abbreviated Japanese version the philosophical assertion, “no one prospers unless he renders benefit to others.”
YKK set into action the mass production of zippers, and the garment industry never looked back from this cost efficient, easy to operate, aesthetically simple technology. While YKK still holds a vast majority of the market share in the world of zippers, specialized iterations for the more discerning and specialized brands.
Riri zippers are famous for their precision and high-tech craftsmanship; their zippers have a gloss about them that evokes the luxury of Swiss watches. With smooth, tight fastenings and small teeth, minimalist labels often prefer the Riri zipper.
Raccagni zippers are the gold standard for securing luxury bags and high-lux designers like Tom Ford. Chunky yet still sleek, sturdiness and highly functional innovation of are paramount values for Raccagni.
Lampo is famous for the double zip that works in both directions. Not only do double zips feature prominently on many garments, but they allow for unconventional, off-beat styling that is visible in many contemporary lookbooks and runways. Lampo's heavy and substantial zippers are a perennial fixture on labels such as Balmain. The zipper has grown from its modest origins into specialized, luxury product with diverse functionality.
YKK Zippers on CMMN SWDN. Wessly Wool Jacket
Lampo Zippers on HELMUT LANG. Crossover Bomber
Custom Zippers on SIKI IM / DEN IM. Zipper Hoodie
Raccagni Zippers on SAMIZDAT. Reference Hoodie
The legacy of the zipper in contemporary fashion began in 1925; Schott NYC started using zippers on their leather jackets. Previously, the thicker leather had been challenging and cumbersome to secure.
The reliability and swift opening and closure that the zipper provided allowed Schott to begin to experiment with many different iterations of the leather jacket, and it's Schott that is responsible for the creation of the now iconic version of the motorcycle jacket that has gone on to inspire so many fashion labels.
This influence is not merely felt in the heritage, #menswear movement of years past – one has to look no further than the highly coveted Slimane era Perfecto jacket to see the footprints of the Schott legacy on contemporary fashion.
Helmut Lang showed the fashion world how the utilitarian and uniform could be repurposed within the context of the avant-garde, and the zipper was central to his modern, deconstructionist aesthetic.
Lang introduced the idea that elements from both the high and low could can on the same garment, and the zipper, which reflected Lang’s lifelong obsession with Levi’s 501 jeans, was the perfect way to mediate this balance. The inherent sensuality of the zipper, in the swift motion it requires to open and close paired with its usual place near the groin, made it the perfect piece of technology for Lang in expressing his aesthetic, a combination of functional clothing and the sexual presence of objects.
He was endlessly fascinated with workwear, and how the idea of a uniform could be deconstructed through his minimalist prism. In his quest to blur the boundaries between the functional and the decorative, the zipper was often employed as an avant-garde accent.
A Zipper could provide a functional pocket in an unconventional place, or it could provocatively close run across a dress asymmetrically, beginning in the center of the thigh and twisting around the back - the possibilities were endless.
Lang’s brilliance lay in the fact that his garments were perfect for people who wanted to stand out without wanting to be overly gauche or loud in their dress. The zipper was the perfect compliment to this design philosophy. Ever present but seldom acknowledged, Lang forced us to be introspective and recognize the creativity that is found in the mundane.
Lang’s artistic and aesthetic influence is endless, especially conceptually. But the repurposing of one of the fundamental tenets of modern clothing design in the zipper was massively influential, especially in recent years. Balmain, Givenchy, and Saint Laurent, among countless other big names in the fashion world, heavily rely on aesthetic uses of the zipper in their collections every season. The zipper is steeped in history, but its simplicity and raw functionality have made it a fixture in the fashion world.
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text: Aaron Gray
NEW YORK CITY. Hells Angels