The Mascot story
What we recognise as the classic ‘biker’ jacket today, was decades in the making, with very deep roots that take in two world wars, the birth of motorised vehicles, aviation & industrial technology. The development can be traced back to the 19th century, in particular, the waterproof, rubberised materials & leathers that protected the backs of seafarers, firemen & police against the elements & injury.
Following the Second World War, British motorcycling exploded, the influx of military bikes & surplus, meant that ex-servicemen, whose horizons had been broadened by travel & a smaller world, bought into the mobility & freedom that bikes offered to them & their families.
10 years after the war with rationing over, the clothing industry boomed, and with easy access to motorcycles & plentiful work, the new generation of post war teenagers wanted fashion over the previously utilitarian styles, & with the appeal of new young stars such as Marlon Brando, James Dean & Elvis Presley, came the birth of the rebel stance & with it, the leather jacket.
Mascot were one of the leading motorcycle clothing names from the mid 1950’s to early 1980’s; alongside the major brands of DH Lewis & Belstaff.
The successful combination of fashion design & utilitarian wear, meant Mascot caught the eye of both the older motorcycle riders (who required a full suit or waxed coat) to the leather clad rockers & ton-up boys who gathered at the legendary venues such as the Ace Café in North West London, so this is the story of a lost time in both British manufacturing & fashion.
1881 - The river Thames & its wharfs were the beating heart of London, & with a myriad of supporting trades, this is where the Mascot story begins. 238 Shadwell High Street (now 267, The Highway E1), a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge, Austro-Hungarian émigré, Alexander Susswein, provides Mackintosh, leather & waterproof clothing manufacturing for the maritime world. He retires a successful ‘gentleman’, owning the bulk of Jews Road, Wandsworth, a terraced wharf spot with home workers operating as mini-factories, making & repairing the rubberised & leather clothing, very common along the Thames & with property gifted to tenants who worked for the company (click on land registry below).
1919 – By the 1920’s he passed the business over to his sons & British born Brothers Philip & Leonard, changed their name from Susswein to Suswin & by 1921 were registered waterproof clothing manufacturers still at 238.
1927 – Mascot registered as Waterproof, rainproof and leather motor clothing manufacturers.
1931 – P & L Suswin registered.
During the pre-war years, Suswins were active in providing clothing for local councils; here are some examples with pricing.
1936 - Street Improvement, Station Road, North Harrow. Suswin, P. & L., Ltd.
Mackintosh leggings for refuse tip labourers - 6 @ 8/6 each... £2 11 0
Mackintosh leggings (navy) for District Foremen – 3 @ 7/6 each ... £1 2 6
Trench coats (4 in 1) (navy) - 3 @ £2/2/0 each… £6 6 0
1939 – Fire Brigade Uniforms – Harrow. P. & L. Suswin, Ltd.
Fire Tunics (Leather) ... ... £22 6 0
(b) That the Chief Officer be authorised to arrange for the plating of one pair of officer's epaulets.
1939 – 1945 – The War Years
With British army contracts & 60 years of manufacturing waterproof, rubberised & leather wear, Suswins grew to the point where they could leave central London to open their factory in Clacton-On-Sea.
1947 – Electric Theatre, Old Road, Clacton converted to clothing factory.
Philip died in 1948 & Stanley 1962.
1950’s – Under the direction of Stanley Suswin, the factory grew into an important employer in the area, still with the sloping floor of the old cinema. With the growth of the motorcycle, they were a major national wholesaler & designer of PVC & leather motorcycle clothing, & by 1957, the Mascot name was established & Mascot launched it’s legendary ‘w’ style ‘Black Night’ & ‘Black Rock’, the Ton-Up Boy single zip jackets being sold alongside the other brands such as Belstaff & Amordrake.from major dealerships like Claude Rye on the Fulham Road, London.
1960’s – Mascot developed further styles, adding the ‘coffin’ shaped zips from the company ‘Aero’, & fashion elements such as fringing & American style waist belts, & with the growth of scooterists, introduced PVC coats.
The ability to wholesale their clothing to the many motorcycle shops around the UK, Army surplus stores & in particular the ‘Milletts’ chain of shops which were on the majority of high streets, this ability helped solidify the name & keep the price competitive as it did not have the expensive of a retail chain itself.
The designs opened up as motorcycle clothing became fashionable, but the key difference was having their own factory, whereas other manufacturers had to outsource, it allowed Mascot to be far more cost effective, even manufacturing for some of the other motorcycle clothing brands.
As a cost saving measure, jackets often had PVC used behind the collar & on the inside of the back belt, although not a quality enhancement, it became something the jackets were recognised for.
The classic Mascot label incorporated the P & L Suswin name subtly as PLS in the big ‘S’ star logo.
Still keeping an eye on fashion, a wax cotton three (Dryrider) or four (the Scrambler) pocket Belstaff style coat was developed.
By the 1970’s, the car had surpassed the motorbike as the average mode of transport, & although still popular, the taste for leather jackets slowed, but Mascot were about to grace record sleeves & the street fashion scene which would lodge the Black Night into legend.
1976 - Punk Rock & the rebel spirit & heritage of the ‘biker’ jacket through the rockers, greasers, ton-ups & teds, , with Lewis Leathers dressing the top bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash & The Damned, but the audience, & the newer bands who couldn’t afford a new jacket, or a trip to London, could buy a Mascot from many motorcycle shops for around £49.99, so the Black Night became iconic, being worn by many bands including The Cure, Iron Maiden, The Undertones, The Pretenders (alongside Lewis), UK Subs etc…
1980’s – With this resurgence, Mascot allowed itself to re-developed an early 70’s design which became the more modern, padded jacket, the ‘Highflyer’ which was available in both black & blue leather, it was also worked into a woman’s cut by 1980, again in black & blue.
It was around the early 80’s that the economy & manufacturing costs in the UK spiralled, which decimated the clothing industry, to combat this, the company moved away from its motorcycle & leather jackets & drew upon its waterproofed clothing roots by launching itself into the wax cotton country gentleman coats (Barbour being hugely popular at the time) & work wear, & although with excellent quality & varied designs, the heyday of Mascot leather came to an end.
1990’s – By the late 90’s, sadly, after over 100 years of manufacturing protective clothing, P & L Suswin dissolved & the Clacton factory on Old Road was redeveloped into a small housing estate called fittingly…. Mascot Court.
2014 – The motorcycle jacket has become a clothing statement for both motorcycling and fashion, it says who you are, we don't want to let go of the most stylish jacket designs that ever graced a motorcycle seat, a rock stars back, or a well dressed rebel, just disappear in obscurity.