The Short, Tragic Life of the Eight-Ball Jacket

Amazon
Amazon

After opening North Beach Leather in San Francisco in the late 1960s, designer Michael Hoban earned the business of Jimi Hendrix, Cher, and Mick Jagger; a late-stage, corpulent Elvis Presley asked for customized 40-inch-waist jumpsuits; Jackie Onassis placed orders. So did Eddie Murphy. Through word-of-mouth, North Beach became a beacon for leather lovers, who bought everything from sweaters to skirts.

Despite his star clientele, Hoban’s lasting contribution to fashion is a result of visiting a bowling alley—and being part of the wardrobe on Seinfeld.

The designer was at the lanes in 1986 when inspiration struck: Noticing the distinctive shoe sizes affixed to the back sides of bowling shoes, Hoban returned to work and designed a premium leather jacket that used the numerical stamp as a focal point for the shoulders and sleeves. Playing with the amusement motif, he also created sister designs featuring playing cards and dice.

The coats sold well, but Hoban didn’t achieve pop culture immortality until 1990, when he used the eight-ball—the final ball pocketed in a game of pool—to perfect the design. Almost immediately, ambitious young adults gravitated toward the subtext (they were winners), and the $775 jackets became a fixture in music videos and on television. Hoban was doing such brisk business that he saw no reason to give any away, with one exception: Arsenio Hall, who appeared on a hit television show that was construed as free advertising.

The jackets proved so popular that several murders and assaults were blamed on them in major metropolitan areas; New York City Mayor David Dinkins used some of the robberies as ammunition for his argument that crime was on the rise, petitioning for $1.8 billion to fund 9000 additional police officers. Some stores even refused to stock them, fearful it would make them a target for robberies.

Hoban was under siege in a different way: The success of the eight-ball jacket led to an endless parade of copycat manufacturers who could sell the design for less than $300 thanks to cheaper materials and overseas labor. He was aggressive in contesting the infringement, settling out of court with eight defendants and partnering with others for “approved” knock-offs.

Because of their popularity in retail and on MTV, It wasn’t long before the market was diluted and the coats lost their cache. By 1998, the jacket had atrophied to become a punchline on Seinfeld, where Elaine’s boyfriend, David Puddy, wore one. Like "The Puffy Shirt," it was clothing meant to shame everyone in its proximity.

North Beach closed its doors in 2002. Manufacturers like Stüssy still roll out the eight-ball design, sometimes affixing it to sneakers or T-shirts and knowing full well it’s being enjoyed ironically. Patrick Warburton, the actor who portrayed Puddy, lamented to the New York Post in 2010 that he failed to purchase his character's jacket when he had the chance.

“The wardrobe people said they’d sell it to me for $100,” he recalled. “I said, ‘You can keep it.’”

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AquaSonic
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Notre-Dame Cathedral’s New Spire Will Be an Exact Replica of the Old One

This wasn't actually the original spire.
This wasn't actually the original spire.
Michael McCarthy, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Just days after a fire ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019, France’s then-prime minister Édouard Philippe announced plans for an international competition to design a new, more modern spire “suited to the techniques and challenges of our time.”

Though not everyone supported the initiative, architects from all over the world made quick work of sharing their innovative ideas. Some imagined spires made from unconventional materials—Brazilian architect Alexandre Fantozzi favored stained glass, for example, and France’s Mathieu Lehanneur designed a flame-shaped spire covered in gold leaf—while others envisioned using the space for something completely different. Sweden’s Ulf Mejergren Architects suggested a rooftop swimming pool, and Studio NAB proposed a greenhouse.

But those architects will have to bring their inventive designs to life elsewhere. As artnet News reports, the French Senate recently passed legislation mandating that the cathedral be restored to its “last known visual state.” President Emmanuel Macron released a statement endorsing the decision and explaining that city officials would look to add a “contemporary gesture” in the “redevelopment of the surroundings of the cathedral” instead.

Though the 800-ton, 305-foot-tall spire was certainly one of Notre-Dame’s most striking features, it wasn’t actually part of the original building. The first spire, constructed between 1220 and 1230, began to deteriorate after several centuries, and it was removed in the late 1700s. The cathedral went spire-less until 1859, when builders completed work on architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s new design—which, according to Popular Mechanics, wasn’t an exact replica of the original.

17th-century etching of paris notre-dame cathedral
A 17th-century etching of Notre-Dame with its original spire.
I. Silvestre, Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

This event could have set the precedent for updating the spire this time, but it’s possible that government officials were motivated by more than a simple commitment to architectural consistency. Last year, Macron had promised that the restoration would be completed by 2024, when Paris is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics. It’s an ambitious goal, and a worldwide competition to come up with a new design could have delayed the process more than reconstructing the spire as it once was.

[h/t artnet News]