Melvin “Mel” Schott, who launched the original leather motorcycle jacket into the future has died, leaving a century-long legacy of his four-generation family business and enduring dedication to American manufacturing. The Schott family confirmed that he died on Wednesday, August 14, 2019, in Florida. He was 94.
He spent a lifetime constructing protective second skins, built to shield the most fearless daredevils and be passed down as heirlooms, each scratch and wrinkle in the impervious leather telling a unique story. His commitment to inventing new methods of manufacturing and nurturing future generations to persevere amidst challenges both familial and economic instilled the values that brought a simple utilitarian garment to now sit in the Museum of Modern Art.
Mel was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 11, 1925, to Irving and Rose Schott whose parents had immigrated to the U.S. from Europe at the turn of the century. He was raised observing his father, inventor of the modern-day motorcycle jacket, at their Lower East Side store and factory at 96 East Broadway. He learned the trade of creating tough-as-nails leather jackets and peddling them door to door. When he turned 18, he valiantly answered his nation’s call of duty and enlisted in the military. The 5th Marine Division was activated in November of 1943 where he crossed the Pacific Ocean and completed his training in Hawaii. He eventually landed on Iwo Jima in February of 1945 where he was wounded in one of the bloodiest battlefields of the Pacific War and subsequently awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
After recovering for over a year in military hospitals he returned to New York where he met his future wife Leila Eisenstat and were married in 1947. He graduated from New York University in 1948 and joined the family business where he would work for the next 46 years. Mel was competitive but fair, with natural agility, coordination. His family and colleagues recall an inherent fascination with deconstructing everyday objects and processes to discover the secrets of how they are made, and thus to be improved.
The local outfitter saw success through the early 1950s selling Irving Schott’s Perfecto motorcycle jacket through motorcycle parts catalog distribution and Harley Davidson dealerships. In 1953, they could not have predicted the success their utilitarian garment would have when it appeared on the back of Marlon Brando in the cult classic film, The Wild One. The name Perfecto was used for all elite styles of the motorcycle jacket, named after Irving’s favorite cut of a cigar, but the brand name featured in the now-iconic asymmetrical belted style grew famous worldwide in a new wave of American rebellion.
Always an inquisitive and innovative risk-taker, Mel worked at night creating patterns to expand the collection’s product offerings and trying the samples on the neighborhood boys to check the fit and styling of the moment. He showed interest in the technical mechanics of manufacturing and built new automated machines to bring the family manufacturing into the future. It is said by his family he was happiest under a machine with his signature cigar in his mouth.
In the late 1960s, Mel capitalized on the success of Perfecto motorcycle jacket by hiring sales staff and creating the brand’s first catalogs to distribute his new designs through sportswear retailers, army surplus stores and uniformed police forces. Mel’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to further expand his family business by partnering with international distributors in Europe and Japan, relationships that are still in place today as the brand’s products continue to export worldwide. His vision for growing domestic manufacturing at a time when most apparel brands began outsourcing production overseas maybe his largest contribution to the family business.
He used his leisure time to pursue thrilling adventure, driven by a deep-rooted fearlessness gained partially from surviving life-threatening injuries at war. Always a family affair, he took his time away from the factory with his family who were also colleagues. Testing his own wares on his many motorcycles and planes, Mel bought his first airplane because “they threw in the pilot lessons for free.” His flight and sailing crew worked with him 5.5 days a week in the factory and included his son, son in law and the young man he hired in middle school to raise his sails, who today manages global sales for the brand. In 1977 he competed in the Southern Ocean Racing Conference with his sailboat “Big Schott”, landing his boat on the cover of Yachting Magazine.
In the 1980s, international demand for the military bomber jacket continued to grow the business and increase production by moving into a 250,000 square foot factory in Perth Amboy, New Jersey with 500 employees. Mel Schott assumed the role as President from 1986-1994. He was succeeded by his late son, Michael Schott from 1995-1997 until his untimely passing. Mel’s daughter Roslyn Schott who had previously been working in sales and marketing took over as president in 1997 and has continued to run the family business with her brother in law, Steven Colin, (CEO) who married her sister Barbara Schott. Mel’s two grandsons, Jason Schott (COO) and David Colin (VP) are the 4th-generation of current Schott family members continuing the legacy of manufacturing classic American made goods. The legacy of the jackets created by Mel Schott lives on in the rebellious Americans who lent their bravado to them like James Dean, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga.
Melvin Schott is survived by his wife Leila Schott of Highland Beach, Florida; his daughter Roslyn Schott (Stanley Geller), daughter Barbara Colin (Steven), Susan Schott wife of his late son Michael; his grandchildren, Oren Schott, Eve Taub (Jordan), Jason Schott Clawans (Dayna Platnick), Sari Jepsen (Mads), Bryan Colin, David Colin (Katherine Pretti) and 8 great-grandchildren all of New Jersey.