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Fashion 88 : Biker Chic Rides High With L.A. Fashion Hogs

Times Staff Writer

Being trendy in Los Angeles today has nothing to do with designer pizza, power breakfasts or fake fur. The latest status symbol is a motorcycle.

Of course, like most fads there are two ways to go about this. You can be a biker . . . or just look like one.

Looking like one means donning appropriate attire: leather motorcycle jacket ($200 to $5,000), black jeans, cowboy boots and a chain hanging conspicuously from the front pocket. Going full-tilt means trading your four-wheel cage for a bike, preferably a Harley-Davidson (a vintage model or one with the new Evolution engine), a rare Indian or an Italian Moto Guzzi.

The biker look has been a major fashion hit for those who covet the bad boy or bad girl image. Even Neiman Marcus has capitalized on the current wave with its 1988 Christmas catalogue offering--a limited edition, Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle customized by designer Jeff Hamilton for a mere $25,000.

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A Jeff Hamilton leather jacket is a steal at $2,000.

And who did the venerable Texas-based store get to model the bike wear? Local Hell’s Angels? Hardly. Decked out in black leather are super chef Wolfgang Puck, wife Barbara Lazaroff, Atlantic Richfield chairman emeritus William Kieschnick and wife Keith.

“There’s a misconception that the majority of our loyalists have all been Hell’s Angels,” reports Kathryn Molling, manager of public affairs for Harley-Davidson. “But we’ve had a strong following during our 85 years, and the people who comprise those loyalists run the entire economic gamut, from Malcolm Forbes to the guy down the street who’s a bricklayer who might have one or two in the garage.”

The biker mystique, she adds, “is real hard to explain. I think it has something to do with the bad boy image. A lot of these folks are in business suits during the day and hold very responsible positions, and then suddenly they jump on a motorcycle and put on a leather jacket. But I think a bigger part is the sense of freedom they experience.”

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Retailers are experiencing solid sales of high-priced leather motorcycle jackets, which consumers are scooping up without passing out when they peek at the sales tag.

Shoppers who want that lived-in look go to second-hand stores like Leathers and Treasures on Melrose, or American Rag Cie on La Brea. For new jackets, they flock to places like Fred Segal, where even children can have the biker look (for a mere $275) while revving up their tricycles.

Recent hype about famous motorcycle owners has helped fuel the trend. Among the celeb-bikers are: Arnold Schwarzenegger; 20th Century Fox head Barry Diller; Jay Leno; Sylvester Stallone; “Wiseguy” star Ken Wahl; Mickey Rourke and Perry King.

Jeff Hamilton designs leather jackets for celebs like Kenny Loggins and George Michael, as well as the fashionable and well-heeled masses. The Los Angeles-based designer says the original appeal of his broad-shouldered, studded jackets might have been to acquire a tough look, but that has been bypassed in favor “of just looking stylish.”

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Hamilton himself owns a custom Harley, and he calls riding it on weekends “a very pleasurable hobby.”

But even he admits that at $25,000 per it is “a very expensive hobby. It’s not like before when people would buy a bike and fix it up themselves. Now they come in and say, ‘I want the bike finished, all chrome, and I’ll pay $25,000.’ It’s more expensive than a car.”

Some Bad Feelings

The popularity of motorcycles and the biker look has prompted some ill-feelings from veteran, trend-beating bikers.

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They look down on the so-called fashion hogs who cruise Melrose on custom wheels and gnash their teeth at what the new image of the biker has become. “These people who have bikes are ‘Born to be mild,’ ” one observer mused.

“It annoys me, I suppose, to be grouped in with all of that,” says 35-year-old John Marx, vice president in charge of contemporary music at the William Morris agency.

Marx, who raced dirt bikes when he was 11, now owns a plum-colored 1988 rubber mount FXLR Harley with an Evolution engine. “It’s almost to the point now that some avid riders I know almost don’t want to ride because it’s too trendy. It’s making a statement they don’t want to make.”

Still, the trendiness hasn’t stopped Marx, who says that “much to the annoyance of the people who manage the office, I do ride it to work on nice days.”

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