Firstly, let me start this off by stating that I know next to nothing about motorcycles nor the various types of racing affiliated with them. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that they involve a lot of adrenaline, torque, a high tolerance for pain and really, really sick gear. But then again, I’m pretty much just going off of that scene in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (you know the one).
My friend Adam Cianciarulo, on the other hand, does know a thing or two about motorcycle racing, if this photo of him casually soaring mid-air on a Kawasaki is anything to go by (American Flag waving in the background and all).
Before I start rambling about the sport’s sartorial quirks, let’s get a little insight about what motorcycle racing actually entails.
“There are various different disciplines you can do on motorcycles at a professional level,” Adam told me. “The most popular (what I do) are supercross and motocross. Supercross involves a normally tight and technical track with a lot of jumps. Those races are held inside of football and baseball stadiums. Motocross is outside, with more of a natural terrain track. It’s more of a ‘wide open’ or ‘faster’ form of dirt bike racing.”
Now what about the gear? What makes up a motorcycle racer’s uniform?
“Helmet, goggles, jersey, chest protector (most don’t wear one or wear one under their jersey), gloves, knee braces (worn under the pants), pants and boots.”
In terms of the differences in gear across the sport’s many disciplines (which all looks the same to me), according to Adam, there aren’t too many in terms of aesthetic – the disparities are mostly technical.
“The gear is very similar with small changes (such as different color goggle lenses) to adapt to the light and color of the dirt. However, road racing gear is pretty different than what dirt bike racers wear. Our [dirt biking] jersey and pants do little for our protection, while road racers wear leathers that allow them to slide when they crash on the asphalt. Style is pretty similar, though. For instance, if you ride a Kawasaki (which is green), you typically will have green accents in your gear to match the motorcycle – that applies across many platforms.”
OK, so now that we’re up-to-speed (no pun intended) on what makes up traditional racing attire, let’s take a moment to uncover how it’s being appropriated in contemporary fashion.
Designers and pop culture have long been inspired by racing paraphernalia (recalling everything from Michael Jackson’s iconic candy-red “Thriller” jacket designed by Deborah Landis to Darth Maul’s “Apollo Gore 102” Frank Thomas boots), but in an effort to stay as au courant as possible, I’m going to backtrack to the first collection that comes to mind where the style was most prominently pawed over: Marc by Marc Jacobs’s FW14 menswear line.
The collection, which marked the brand’s debut for designers Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier, featured a series of color-blocked trousers, bombers and jerseys cut from sheeny, lightweight cottons and techy Kevlar fabric, while dizzying graphics and bold logos showered nearly every piece – all common tropes within motorcycle racing regalia.
The following season, Milan-based designer Marcelo Burlon took his inspiration to even greater heights by hosting a full-fledged motocross show for his SS15 Pitti Uomo presentation in Florence. The high-octane affair starred a cast of professional racing champions as they somersaulted over ramps and dirt mounds while wearing the season’s discernibly motocross-inspired line, which even included protective gear such as padding, masks, helmets, googles and armor.
“[Motorcycle racing] is a theme that’s always present and keeps coming back. It’s evergreen,” says Burlon, a designer whose penchant for the sport would carry over even in subsequent seasons. “Every few months some magazine does an editorial with racing gear in it, or some artist makes a racing-themed music video. It’s not a fashion, it’s part of contemporary culture.”
Though I’d argue that motorcycle racing’s “cultural” relevance in fashion probably has little to do with genuine interest in the actual sport (this year’s metal tee trend is a firm testament to this notion), Burlon was right in affirming its steadfast popularity in the industry. During the SS16 Fashion Week circuit, racing gear was seemingly all the rage, with everyone from Vetements and KTZ to Moschino and Louis Vuitton flexing their own take on the style.
The trend would tear into FW16’s lineup, too. Maison Margiela‘s collection was riddled with multi-colored leather moto jackets and pants (the label also released a pair of racing-inspired sneakers a few months later), while Kanye West sprinkled in a few dirt bike pants and gloves in YEEZY Season 3, all of which were created in collaboration with motocross magnate, Fox Racing. (Fun Fact: YEEZY’s President, Pete Fox, also happens to be the President of Fox Racing, so there’s that tie-in).
In streetwear, cult Japanese brand Cav Empt whipped up a pair of racing gloves for its FW16 line, whereas Supreme inserted some snazzy red and black motorbike helmets in its seasonal drop (this isn’t the first time that the stalwart NYC brand toyed with racing aesthetics, though – remember that über rare, über exclusive Alpinestars collaboration from 2007?).
Delving into the womenswear realm, there was a heaping handful of SS17 collections that waved that racing flag high and proud, from leading luxury house Louis Vuitton (which succeeds its SS16 moto-tinged line) to buzzy newcomers such as MISBHV, Ground Zero (one of VFILES’ finalists) and Alyx Studio.
Furthermore, and steering off the fashion path ever so slightly, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, which was one of the year’s hottest albums and quite possibly the most anticipated musical project of the last four years, generated considerable discussion for its alternate album cover, where the artist is seen wearing a motorbike helmet and a matching pink NASCAR hoodie (not motorcycle-related, but still in the same family…sort of).
So what is the reason behind fashion’s current obsession with racing gear? Well, aside from a generic appreciation for the sport’s aesthetic, there doesn’t really seem to be one. As I mentioned above, the industry at large has a tendency to mimic the “look” of a culture without having in-depth insight of its ideology or craft (*cough*Thrasher*cough*).
But in the end, who cares? The sport doesn’t need the approval from Kanye, Vetements, Frank Ocean or anyone else for that matter to be deemed relevant and cool – motorcycle racing and its clothing have always been sick AF. And as far as seeing blatant non-racers wearing moto gear, it doesn’t seem to be bothering the pros…for now. “I think any mainstream exposure of racing or any extreme sports is rad,” says Adam.
I’ll be sure to ask for his opinion again once the Kardashian-Jenner Klan is spotted in full-on racing threads while shopping for 10ct canary diamond dog collars, however.