FWA Number 19 – The Alexander Leather Simmons Bilt Leather Jacket

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This article is a celebration, it is the first fruitful completion of an FWA hunt and the result is staggeringly beautiful. My hunt for a leather jacket brought many options into consideration in terms of style and manufacturer, plus options in whether to buy new or vintage. There were merits and arguments for this and that, definite favourites which had to be set aside for economic and logistical reasoning and in the end it became a case of finding the best option in my chosen style of a Cossack style, button front, A1 civilian jacket.

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There are some great examples of this design made by some great brands, all with their own little design tweaks and all made from slightly different leathers. Some of the more expensive jackets are made from Japanese Shinki horse hide, whilst some choose the ever popular front quarter horse hide. For my personal jacket I went with a leather that I know well from having boots made from it, and oddly I am not a fan of it as a boot leather, I am referring to the ever popular chrome tanned steer hide from Chicago tannery Horween, popularly known as Chromexcel.

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When looking at the smaller details of this style there were a couple of things which I wanted to avoid, as they do not flatter my body type, this was easier said than done and had the potential to lead me into the realm of custom patterns, which would have been beyond my means. The first thing I needed to avoid is a feature extremely common to this style, and some would argue that it is the defining feature, the shawl collar. Because of the way the traditional shawl collar is constructed (short, crossed over and with scalloped ends), it can serve to accentuate one of my worst features, my sloping shoulders. Indeed when I first showed my wife a picture of my chosen jacket she was sure that it would serve me with this problem, I assured her that this was not a shawl collar, it was a Peter Pan collar first popularised in men’s work coats in the 20’s and 30’s. Secondly I needed to avoid the scalloped bottom hem often found in this style as it places emphasis on my overtly wide hips.

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So I had a style, I had a leather and I had certain features which I would rather avoid, next came price point and the place and method of manufacture. The first jacket I saw which almost fit the bill came with a price point out of my range, so did the second, after this I decided to set a budget of £550 and I would not stray above it for anything. The jacket would have to be ethically made, preferably fully hand made and I would prefer something made either in Japan, the USA or Europe, which is a fairly broad choice. Armed with my set of criteria it became very much a straight choice of two jackets, the Aero Leathers Aeromarine or the Alexander Leathers Simmons Bilt. The deciding factors which lead to my eventual choice were the collar detail and Giles Padmore of IHUK who was in a position to help me out with spec and details to meet my requirements. The jacket I chose was of course the Alexander Leathers Simmons Bilt jacket in black Horween Chromexcel, fully lined with olive ventile material and hand made in Selkirk, Scotland (by Vicki), and when Giles told me that the jacket would be ready for me to collect on my weekend trip to IHUK this last weekend I was excited as a schoolboy with a new Call Of Duty video game.

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The Simmons Bilt is truly a work of art, managing to be both faithfully vintage and delightfully contemporary simultaneously it is a truly classic and timeless design. The original style was conceived as a civilian motorcycle jacket in the early part of the 1930’s and based around similar cut flight jackets of the time, the short cut style makes it far more comfortable for people sat in the riding position and relatively close fitting cut eliminates drag. The button front is for me a matter of personal style choice, but back in the days of its original conception it was simply due to zippers being in short supply and mostly being allocated for military use.

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The fit of the Alexander works well for me for a couple of reasons, it is forgiving where I need it to be and tight where I it matters, plus the jacket was made very slightly too small for me (my own fault with the measurements) which serves as great motivation to drop a couple of inches from my waistline for a more comfortable fit. In terms of sizing the jacket for length of body and arm length I think that I have got it pretty much spot on, the jacket should sit just above the top of your jeans back pockets and the end of the cuff should sit around your thumb knuckle As a casual jacket I think this style looks better when worn open, but for purposes of weather protection I will need it to fasten in the winter months. The construction and hardware are absolutely flawless, as you would expect from people with as much experience in the manufacture of top quality leather jackets as the folks at Alexander, and the hide is typical Horween quality which means that you probably wouldn’t find much better anywhere in the world.

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This jacket is truly a defining FWA, it is impeccably made from the best materials available in a design that will continue to look great for decades to come and this is exactly what a FWA should be. Within literally seconds of picking it up I knew the Simmons Bilt would be with me for many, many years to come and it is that kind of confidence in things which I look for. Alexander leathers have produced a jacket for me which sits very comfortably in my clothing pantheon of the elite, and my thanks go to Giles for assisting me with the ordering and specifying process. When I picked my jacket up I was told that Haraki-San had tried it on already and that I was lucky that it did not fit him, but he must have liked it because Iron Heart have now decided to collaborate on their own edition of the Simmons Bilt with Alexander which will feature ventile lined arms and tartan over moleskin through the body for additional warmth. If you’re in the market for a classic leather jacket, handmade from amazing leather at a very reasonable price you really could do much worse than take a look in this direction, now all I need is bit of cooler weather so I can wear this thing like it deserves.

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