North Beach Leather was established by Michael Hoban and Frank Morgan in the mid 1960s as a leather goods store in Los Angeles, California. In 1967 the shop was moved to San Francisco, to the North Beach section of town, hince the name. Hoban’s leather designs proved to be popular with the San Francisco hippies, and a branch was soon opened in Berkeley.
North Beach Leather did custom work for celebrities such as Elvis and Elton John. His designs are known for their boldness in both color and design. They were also known for their priciness, as these were quite expensive garments.
By the early 2000s, there were eleven North Beach Leather stores, but financial difficulties caused all but the San Francisco store to close in 2004. Hoban left the company, which was acquired by its general manager, Skip Pas.
From a 1970s pant suit, a 1980s skirt, an early 1990’s dress – Courtesy of eel
Michael Hoban and North Beach Leather Internationalcourtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Michael Hoban was one of the first designers in the 1960s to introduce counterculture leather jackets and clothing to Hollywood’s celebrities.
He was born in the rough Roxbury section of Boston where, in the 1950s, he was the leader of the Warriors, a teenage street gang. His mother nicknamed him “Hobo” because he liked to wear ripped jeans. She would discard his worn clothing, only to find him wearing it the next day. He was later to use the street gang clothing of that time as inspiration for many of his designs. For example, some of his leather jackets and many of his first sportswear clothing line include the name Hobo somewhere in the design or label.
A high-school drop out at 17, he joined the Marine Corps, which he said “was a great thing” because it motivated him to continue his education. After completing his tour of duty, he attended art school. He took courses at Long Beach State College in California, taking math classes with a goal set on aeronautical engineering. He left Long Beach in the mid-1960s when his best friend encouraged him to settle in San Francisco.
Hoban began working with leather in the early 1960s, because he wanted “far-out clothes” and hadn’t been able to find leather bell bottoms anywhere. Putting his mathematical skills to work, he made a blueprint for the pants, sent away to Mexico for the leather, and found a dressmaker to make the trousers. The bell-bottom trousers and other custom-only leather garments that Hoban was producing prompted Frank Morgan, now his business partner, to persuade Hoban to open a shop. Soon he was creating entire leather outfits, which he sold along with other manufactured garments at this boutique in Los Angeles.
In 1967, the small shop was moved into the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach district, from which they took the name–North Beach Leather. Soon, they opened another in Berkeley, CA. As the center of the counterculture, Berkeley in the 1960s provided the perfect atmosphere for Hoban’s design.
As his custom business began to expand, so did his list of clients. He made clothes for Black Panthers Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and for many members of the Hell’s Angels. Elvis Presley came into the shop and spent $38,000 on an order of leather capes, pants, and jackets. Many other celebrities shopped at North Beach Leather, including Elton John, who bought a rainbow fringe jacket, and Sammy Davis, Jr., who purchased a red, white, and blue Captain America outfit. Hoban soon designed custom leather ensembles for popular recordings artists such as the Rolling Stones, Diana Ross, Paul McCartney, and Tina Turner.
Michael Hoban’s jackets are bright, bold, and beautifully crafted, often displaying some graphic image on the back sleeves and fronts. These jackets are expensive, mostly manufactured in the United States and Hong Kong, and are made up in intricate patterns and detailed designs that incorporate such techniques as patchwork, insertions, and appliqué. His favorite jacket is the American Flag jacket, which sold out during Desert Storm. Hoban’s goal is to make the American leather industry comparable to the European leather industry. By working with American tanners, he has encouraged the industry to improve tanning methods in order to produce lighter, better quality hides in a broad range of color. He continues to search for ecologically sound ways of refining the raw material and to make leather a mainstream fabric within the garment industry.