Something is seriously wrong. It just dawned on me that this is my second post about a coat in a very short time span. In any case, I wrote this for Playboy Online sometime in the late '90s. Being that it's nowhere to be found on the interweb, I figured I would rework it ever so slightly and give it a decent home here in Bukowski's Basement.
OK, so what's it about? My humble search for the perfect leather jacket -- a Chili Palmer leather jacket to be exact. In the mid-90s, it was no friggin' easy task. Enjoy.
I'm of the belief that it takes a certain kind of guy to wear leather.
I'm not talking about your typical biker jacket. Any schmuck with a Bon Jovi backstage pass around his neck could pull that off. I'm talking about something a bit more different, shady. Perhaps even moody. Something I like to call bad-ass leather.
Almost every bad-ass film hero (since Richard Roundtree made it chic in the film "Shaft") has worn one. Usually, the coats are black, at least three buttons, wide lapels, fingertip length with just the right amount of wear and tear that warns, "I'm not in the mood."
Crime writer Elmore Leonard knows about it. In his novel "Get Shorty," loan shark Chili Palmer (deftly played by John Travolta in the 1995 film) breaks rival mobster Ray Bones' nose for just borrowing his coveted coat, "Just like the one Pacino wore in 'Serpico.'"
Back in '95, after seeing the film adaptation of "Get Shorty," I started an intense quest to find one just like his (or, rather, just like Frank Serpico's) and mall after mall, I came up with nothing. Man I was pissed. Here I was living in one of the most densely populated states in the country and I came up empty handed.
As far as men's fashion was concerned, stores only offered cheaply woven leather sportcoats. And for some reason, Wilson's Suede and Leather always carried them. I tried it on, but it was all wrong. Chili's jacket was different. The lapels were cool, flopping sometimes as he walked. His also looked heavier, like he could wear it in the winter. This Wilson version had a cheesy, thin look, but I thought, coupled with the right amount of attitude, I'd make it work. I was wrong.
After trying it on again, the jacket screamed purse snatcher. If I was going to be drinking beer out of a paper bag, perhaps...
The hunt would continue.
After catching a rerun of "Godfather III" on cable, I noticed that Vincent Gambini (Andy Garcia) was wearing one and that got me thinking. The wardrobe departments consciously cloaked the toughest MFs in Hollywood with that type of coat for a reason.
It was the anti-London Fog, made for guys who don't shave and drank too much coffee. They've been around the block; drank too much whiskey. They smoked, asked few questions, and were always ready for serious shit to happen. They're up by noon and in bed by dawn. They're unconventional thinkers. Some may be gonzo writers or renegade artists. Others may be loan sharks or collectors.
Point blank, you had to be careful around these sons-a-bitches.
I compiled a short list of the film icons whose shoulders graced my coat:
Rocky Balboa in "Rocky" (Sylvester Stallone), Jack Walsh in "Midnight Run" (Robert DeNiro), Vincent Gambini in "My Cousin Vinny" (Joe Pesci), Vinny Vaccari in "The Idolmaker" (Ray Sharkey), Carlito Briganti (Al Pacino) in "Carlito's Way", Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) in "Donnie Brasco" and even Charlie Moran in "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (Mickey Rourke, at left).
The clincher, though, was when this retro look started to appear in more modern films -- Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible" (Tom Cruise), David Mills in "Seven" (Brad Pitt, right)) and even 'Spoon' in "Gridlock'd" (Tupac Shakur) showed up with their best "Shaft" cowhide on their backs.
Remember, this was the mid-'90s. You couldn't exactly find whatever you wanted at the push of a button. Shopping is easier now; if we want something - we fuckin' Google it. Back then it was all about the hunt and peck.
As the leather jacket APB continued, I started another intense search, only this time, I hit thrift shops. Apparently, I wasn't the only one looking. The jackets, I was told, went out as soon as they came in. They were hot. Vintage was creeping back. If it were today, I'd be able to buy one at Sears.
Then it came. A Guess catalog wound up on my chick's coffee table and I thumbed through it, much like I thumb through everything else, quickly. That is until I saw an ad with my coat.
The Chili Palmer coat. It couldn't be. No one sold them. After all, the coats were just a figment of some retro Hollywood image. In any case, I rushed to the nearest Guess store and they were sold out. Figures, right? I was beginning to think I'd have to sell my soul to the devil himself to get one of these friggin' things.
But then, before I left, some cutie at the shop informed me that she'd phone other Guess shops to see if they were in stock. And they were. A shop in New York state had one for me but "some woman" scooped it up at the last second for her boyfriend, I was told. Another shop across the state had one and I immediately bought it.
About two weeks later, I wear the thing to my girl's house and she starts to cry. WTF? Perplexed, I asked her what was the matter. She disappears in her room and comes out 10 seconds later, throwing another Chili Palmer coat at me and said, "Merry Fucking Christmas." Apparently, she'd been the woman at Guess who scooped it up for her boyfriend.
It's funny now, but Jesus, it was a rough night. I tried to tell her that it was awesome that she found one. Not only did I find the coat, but I had another when it fell apart.
What's more, I wouldn't have to break anyone's nose if they borrowed it.
I think Chili Palmer would be proud...