Leather Weather: Samantha Urbani's Hit List
It’s the time of the season… for leather! Fortunately for us, leather-donning artist and musician Samantha Urbani has imparted her wisdom regarding leather jackets: where to find them, how to wear them, and the art of making them truly your own. Alongside her list of New York spots to pick up the leather jacket of your dreams, Urbani recalls the first leather jacket she owned, her most beloved purchase, and how she got into customizing jackets.
Additionally, GrandLife has teamed up with Urbani to bring you the ultimate leather jacket pop-up taking place November 16 in Soho Grand’s Club Room with leather jackets from NYC designers Jakett. You’ll also have the chance to get your leather custom painted by Urbani herself and Paris stylist Hala Moawad of Momma’s Blues.
Can you recall the first leather jacket you ever owned? Where did you buy it, and what was the initial appeal?
Samantha Urbani: My first leather motorcycle jacket was a completely random and fortuitous find. I was 20, on a road trip with family in San Francisco after a cousin’s wedding. I had about an hour to kill alone around Haight-Ashbury and wanted to shop for something special, but didn’t know what. Rather than find the well-curated local vintage spots, I headed straight for the Goodwill, which was always my favorite way to treasure hunt while traveling. Miraculously there were a few amazing cropped moto jackets hanging on a wall and I tried them all on. One was an early ’90s buttery soft, black leather jacket from Contempo Casuals and there was this moment that I was like, Is this too obvious? Is a black leather jacket too timelessly cool; not weird or different enough? I was really into finding rare and strange things at that time or making my own clothes. I bought it for $40 and wore it constantly for the next three years. It really did give me this feeling of instant-cool empowerment, and I’ve been the person to encourage a lot of people to make the same purchase. I ended up losing it after a totally chaotic SXSW show a few years later, but that jacket ended up being a part of my life in a major way and I’ve always owned more than one since.
Tell us about your most beloved leather jacket…
SU: It’s gotta be my yin-yang jacket. I found it at Search & Destroy on St. Marks and originally planned to paint the yin-yang then cut it-slash-apply Velcro along the middle line down the back so I could use it in a music video where I’d tear it off. Once I painted it, it felt too perfect; I couldn’t imagine cutting it up and ended up never making the music video anyway! I’ve worn it continually all over the world for over six years, and I get more compliments on it than anything else I own. It’s what inspired me to start customizing jackets for others.
How did you get into customizing leather jackets?
SU: I grew up primarily making visual art—drawing, painting, sculpting—kind of seeing all objects as mailable mediums in themselves. In high school, I became obsessed with thrift shopping at Goodwills and Salvation Army stores, where everything is cheap and there are so many surprises. I started sewing clothes together, resizing huge sweaters into tiny dresses, kids’ clothes into purses or patches, just being creative and collaging things together. I’d make shirts by painting on them, using sharpies, or printing images onto iron-on cloth and sticking them everywhere. As I got older my style stayed in this DIY philosophy, but I became drawn to more bold, minimal, versatile pieces. Painting on a black leather jacket with its undeniably timeless silhouette, practicality, and instant sense of cool was so satisfying. Then, as I began to sing at huge festivals and late-night TV, at the height of political movements I cared deeply about, I saw painting on clothes as such a valuable medium of expression. You can make a statement so directly in that way, and it became something I’d do for myself and others all the time. I love painting jackets as gifts. I have so many brilliant friends celebrating milestones right now, finishing major projects, getting married, having children, etc., and creating a jacket for them to commemorate special moments is so fun for me, and the best surprise for them.
How can people get in touch to commission a customized jacket?
Can you share your top go-to spots in New York for new and/or vintage leather jackets? What makes each spot special?
SU: James Velouria: This is the vintage spot I tell everyone about first. I love the curation and community they’ve built. You might not find a simple classic motorcycle jacket here, but you will find stunning unique pieces no one else has, and have the best time hanging out in the shop.
Metropolis: Amazingly curated classic East Village spot. Every kind of classic you can imagine. All the best old T-shirts, too.
Search & Destroy: You’re gonna find the perfect fitting leather jacket here. It can be pricey but the selection is always on point.
Any L-Train Vintage location: Cheap, huge selection; always has amazing treasures.
Goodwills and Salvation Army stores: Seriously! If you enjoy taking your time treasure hunting like I do, these are actually the best.
Bonus: For anyone on the West Coast, always hit Out of the Closet. I’ve found some of my favorite things there, and they donate something like 95% of proceeds to HIV research.
I have a couple of secret personal spots that I can’t spill! Come to the pop-up and I’ll give you my treasure map.
The Jakett, Samantha Urbani and Momma’s Blues leather jacket pop-up presented by GrandLife takes place November 16 from 1-6pm in the Club Room at Soho Grand Hotel
WORDS Edwina Hagon