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Himel Brothers: The Art of Vintage Leather Jackets

Leather is perhaps the only thing around here that can compete with our love of denim. The grain, the feel, the smell, and the color combine with an indisputable sturdiness that’s near incomparable.

Unfortunately, a lot of cheap leather goods can hold up to minimal scrutiny with some clever editing. Belts, for instance, are often little more than glorified ropes to anyone other than their wearers. But a leather jacket? Quality in every facet matters. Fortunately for anyone willing to invest in something proper, there are brands such as Himel Brothers Leather.

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As with many respected clothing manufacturer’s, the company’s eponymous founder Dave Himel can trace his roots in tailoring back to Himel generations before him. His grandfather was a tailor in Poland and soon began his own sportswear company after immigrating to North America. A love of clothing and leather trickled down to Dave, but his road to clothing manufacturing is far more circuitous and curious.

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David Himel (right) at Tokyo’s Jumble tradeshow

Dave began studying film history and poststructuralism, but his extracurricular adventures included t-shirt printing and an exploration of vintage clothing. That soon lead to an excursion to India, where he learned batik techniques from a master and exported clothing he made to Canada and Europe. In the early nineties, Himel opened his first business in t-shirt and textile design.

Yet vintage-wear and specifically leather jackets continued to entice him. After years of cultivating his expertise, Himel opened a vintage wholesale distribution in Toronto, dealing with high-level clients based in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and all over the world. Himel continued dealing until the year 2000, when he saw Rin Tanaka’s book, Motorcycle Jackets: A Century of Leather Designs:

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The book opened my eyes to the larger picture of my obsession with leather jackets and the stories that surrounded the brands. As a result, I removed rare leather jackets off my stock list, and began to collect them instead. It was around that time when I started contacting the owners, sewers and other people still alive from the golden age of leather and interviewed them on the phone, I wanted to understand the minutiae surrounding the story of each jacket and their brand.

Himel’s obsession consumed him to new levels as he was determined to figure out why the vintage leather was so much better. In 2007, he started his own blog on the subject, The Art of Vintage Leather Jackets.

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An ostrich embossed jacket from the 1930s featured on Himel’s blog

A year later, he was seriously considering making the bad boys himself. And why not? He had spent numerous years learning about every facet of vintage workwear and the leather jacket and he knew where to find the right machines. Plue, he had the network to discover what he believes is the world’s best horsehide in Shinki, Japan.

Himel Brothers Leather jackets were a hit nearly immediately. After debuting at Craft Workwear in West Hollywood, the jackets caught the eye of Atsu Matsushima of Clutch Magazine, back when the magazine was in its own infancy. The relationship was mutually beneficial and allowed Himel’s project to take off.

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Buying a Himel Brothers Jacket is, for the most part, a bespoke experience. While jackets can be purchased pre-made, the best option is to Himel every bit of information he needs to make it just right. He’ll take your suit measurements, learn about your body type and from there it’s whatever you can dream up:

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Desire a special vintage aspect to a jacket? Himel will often work with new old stock or replicas from Japan. Need a special lining, contrasting textile or something non-leather made? Himel will happily deck the jacket out with Pendleton woolens, British waxed cottons, Scottish Harris Tweed or whatever else suits your fancy.

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And when your order is finally at the top of the queue, eight to fourteen hours of work later will result in a piece that blends classic old school techniques such as skiving and hand-knotting with contemporary aesthetic that can compete with even the best vintage leathers.

Of course, such quality, care, and customization have real costs. Prices fluctuate for a Himel jacket, but expect to pay in the range of $1500. Himel believes that everyone should have that “one good thing” in their wardrobe, and for many that’s one of his jackets. And for something that will last for decades, the price is not obscene, especially when similar offerings from Japanese repro houses start around $2500.

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One of Himel’s jackets still going strong after a motorcycle accident

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With timeless style and durable quality the dictating factors, Himel is currently underway to expand his wares beyond the jacket line. As he admits, his leathers last so long that no one ever needs to buy another, he needs to make things that fall apart more easily! No true timetable has been dictated yet, but hopefully a line of clothes and different accessories, inspired by his vintage collection, will soon see the light of day.

Check out more Himel Brothers on their website, or give Himel’s vintage leather blog a look to get a sense of what twenty years in the business has afforded him.


All images courtesy Dave Himel and Himel Brothers Leather