For a handful of American companies that have managed to stay in business for over a century, their names immediately conjure up some kind of mental bookmark, whether a familiar logo or catchy jingle. Harley-Davidson enjoys a similar level of brand recognition, but beyond their distinctive black, orange, and white emblem, the company has established an instantly identifiable visual language. A singularly unique style, the look usually involves leather, patches, and heavy boots, a postwar phenomenon that has since become universal, frequently referenced in media ranging from film to fashion.
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Pre-WWII imagery of Harley-Davidson riders, however, has typically been a bit harder to come by. Enter Rin Tanaka, a Japanese writer and irrepressible vintage aficionado who’s channeled his passion for American heritage brands and subcultures into a series of self-published, cult-status* books under the publishing name My Freedamn.
Washington, D.C., circa 1925. “H. Addison Bowie.” A motorcycle dealer on H Street.
Harley-Davidson: Book of Fashions, 1910s-1950s is the result of Tanaka’s time spent in the massive Harley archives. Sifting through over 100,000 photos, he managed to whittle down H-D’s extensive history into five decade-specific chapters. The results are equally informational and inspirational—images of cloth and leather helmets mingle with rarely seen photos of African-American and Japanese-American bikers. Customization has long been a staple of the Harley community, and images of studded kidney belts from the ’30s and club shirts from the ’40s and ’50s are among the stunning catalog-style photos presented throughout the book. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a casual admirer of the Harley-Davidson style, this book is an essential.
Rin Tanaka signing his book (via A Continuous Lean)
In addition to his prolific bibliography, Tanaka is also the man behind Inspiration LA, an annual vintage clothing and Americana trade show that attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. For vintage devotees, the event is more than worth the trip, but we have it on good authority that Inspiration may be heading east to New York next year—fingers crossed.
*Speaking of cult status, only 10,000 copies of the H-D Book of Fashions were printed, and according to Tanaka, Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Museum may have a few copies left, but otherwise they’re completely sold out. You’ll definitely want to get your hands on a copy at Love, Adorned before they’re all gone.