By Olivia Harlow
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Ideas are born in a variety of ways, in a variety of places. For Alexis Dudley, the lightbulb went off while she was perched on the seat of a 2003 Triumph motorcycle.
A self-taught fashion designer in Eldorado, Dudley is in the midst of launching Flying Duchess, a “motowear” company that targets the growing number of female motorcyclists nationwide, while filling what she calls an “obvious void.”
Her designs, she says, combine fashion with safety, a fusion she believes is rarely available.
“Every time I looked for jackets that were fashionable … the leather was really thin, they had no armor, the back was not covered, so if you fell, you were not going to be protected at all. You were just kind of like a trophy,” Dudley said. “You could either look darling on your bike or look like you borrowed something from your uncle that had everything you need to be safe.”
With more women showing interest in motorcycling and major companies “starting to address women riding,” Dudley says the timing of her enterprise couldn’t be more appropriate. Though she isn’t sure of the business’s official launch date, Dudley said she’s accepting preorders. But for now, she’s focusing on the company’s initial launch.
A report from the Motorcycle Industry Council states the percentage of female riders has risen from 8 percent to over 14 percent since 1998, and of 30 million-plus Americans who rode a bike at least once in 2014, a quarter of them were women. Dudley said the market has shifted accordingly in the past couple of years, and she hopes Flying Duchess will play a role in its continued progress.
“I wanted to make something that was sexy for a woman, so she could feel that, but not feel like she’s sacrificing being protected,” Dudley said. “Why not make something that’s super cool that will make you want to wear your jacket with protection?”
“You could go clubbing in it,” laughed Dawn Bacon, a fashion designer in Santa Fe, who taught Dudley in a pattern-making class at Santa Fe Community College. Bacon said she’s seen Dudley’s business evolve since the idea’s inception and is not surprised that she saw the business through fruition. “Since she is a motorcycle owner and rider, there’s a level of authenticity there that goes really deep.”
After working for three years to create handmade prototypes, Dudley, a member of the national women’s motorcycling group Motor Maids, sent her flat-pattern designs to Los Angeles just over a year ago, where a small team now produces craft leather jackets based on her original creations.
With the tagline “Riding Your Own Story,” Flying Duchess takes a unique approach to the traditional leather jacket. Part of the idea, she said, is to be among the few companies that make motowear in the United States.
Another goal is to add color — but “no hot pink” — and give women a sleek design with personality. And most importantly, Dudley said, it’s vital that these top grain leather creations offer ample protection for the avid rider.
The jackets, which run between $840 and $950 depending on the pattern and if armor is included, are constructed in a way that provides air flow, doesn’t cause the material to ride up the neckline and bends comfortably with a rider’s bent elbows. The padding, Dudley says, is not the “junky thick plastic foam” in most armored jackets.
Though the designs vary from Route 66 signs to kitty cat faces, one thing is certain: No black.
“Enough with the black leather jackets,” laughed Dudley, adding that “Plain Jane,” the only single-color jacket offered, comes in navy.
Dudley said she’s “sick of black leather” and fringe — seemingly the only apparel options available to women motorcyclists until very recently and practically the only motorcycle attire she sees Santa Feans wear.
Though the California native is more interested in vintage BMWs and Italian-made Ducatis than “Santa Fe’s Harley scene,” she hopes her coastal-inspired aesthetic will appeal to locals as well.
“The entire line was made for all women, riders or not,” she said. “You don’t have to ride to have this jacket.”
Eventually, Dudley said she’d like to include gloves, zip-out pants, mesh summer jackets and potentially even vegan leather options in her motorcycle clothing line.
In the meantime, Dudley is taking preorders. She said she plans to show jackets at the seventh annual Motorado Classic Motorcycle Show in September in Eldorado.
One of the highlights of Dudley’s designs are buttons along the cuffs and zippers, which depict wasp-like figures — also the brand’s logo. She explained that the symbol nods to Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, women pilots who flew supplies across the country during World War II.
“It’s a nod to the women who have done things ahead of us. If it wasn’t for these women doing these amazing things, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Check out the Flying Duchess website for preorders and additional information about the brand. https://fdmotowear.com/