Tattooing is by no means an innovative invention. The history of this phenomenon goes back far into the past – about the fifth millennium BC, when the Japanese began to decorate clay figurines of people with tattoo-like drawings. Since then, the tradition of making tattoos has spread all over the world – wherever they were found: the ancient Egyptians skillfully painted mummies, and European sailors “collected” tattoos in memory of difficult travels in the South Pacific.
It so happened that the perception of tattooed bodies was constantly changing: geography, socio-economic status and ever-transforming values - all this has always determined our view of a tattoo. What does it reflect: individuality, involvement in something, a shameful stigma, or, conversely, a difference that should be proud of? In any case, tattoos have become a massive fashion trend quite recently.
From drawing to culture: Issei Miyake’s “tattooed” collection
For decades, supermodels that have appeared on the most prestigious catwalks in the world in London, Paris, New York and Milan were perceived solely as an impeccable clean sheet, without any marks. There was no place for tattoos in the fashion world until Issei Miyake presented his iconic Tattoo collection in New York in 1971.
It was a bold tribute to youth culture, rock and roll and contemporary art. For the first time, the world saw things that later became cult: a dress and a men’s jumpsuit with handmade paintings. The patterns converged references to the traditional Japanese tattoo art “Iredzumi” and images of the musical idols of the younger generation of that time (namely, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix).
In 1968, Miyake personally witnessed student protests against authoritarianism, he was known as a person who would not indulge the interests of the upper strata of society. On the contrary, the designer advocated inclusiveness, with the help of provocative images he tried to make high fashion accessible not only to a narrow circle of lucky ones, but to everyone. In Japan, tattoos were legalized only in 1948, but the ill fame that followed them has not gone away – in many regions of the country, tattoos are still associated with the Japanese mafia yakuza. Miyake put this controversial phenomenon at the heart of the collection and literally deprived the catwalk of innocence, creating a space for a very important discussion – about the interaction of politics and fashion.
From underground to mainstream
Inspired by Miyake’s example, by the late 1970s, other respected designers began using tattoo motifs in their collections. Martin Margiela’s translucent “tattooed” top (1989), Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Les Tatouages collection (1994), Maison Margiela spring-summer 2014 couture line, inspired by the work of the sailor Jerry, – tattoos are no longer hidden under clothing, now they proudly flaunt themselves things.
From this renewed passion of fashion to overthrow the canons, new brands of much more affordable streetwear with clearly articulated rebellious concepts began to breed. One of the most striking examples is the American brand Von Dutch, named after the famous mechanic and artist Kenny Howard (nicknamed the Dutchman, or Dutch). The brand gained popularity in the early 2000s after the French stylist Christian Audigier was invited to the team. He retained Howard’s signature style, rooted in biker culture. Ironically, at the dawn of the millennium, Von Dutch became a kind of personification of good taste – the brand was worn by everyone: Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Fred Durst and many others.
Jean Paul Gaultier spring-summer 1994
© Guy Marineau
In 2004, Audigier left Von Dutch and moved to another company, which soon after his arrival became a global fashion giant – talking about the personal brand of tattoo artist Ed Hardy. In the 2000s, his T-shirts with arrow-pierced hearts, flames, and rhinestone lettering were everywhere.
Both brands can be considered symbols of their time, they personify a simple trend: drawings on the body suddenly turned into a symbol of the availability of high-quality street fashion and individuality. They ceased to be considered something marginal and even more – the tattoo has become a generally accepted way of self-expression.
Tattoos on gloss covers
Haute couture has turned tattoos into a trendy aesthetic device, and streetwear has become a commodity available to everyone. However, until the 2010s, magazines were still in no hurry to put tattooed models on the covers.
Today, no one will lead an eyebrow when he sees a tattoo on the editorial of a gloss: remember the edge of Lady Gaga’s back (American Vogue, October 2018), small inscriptions on Katy Perry’s hands (Japanese Vogue, September 2015) or a tiny heart on Ariana Grande’s ring finger (British Vogue , July 2018). But all these tattoos are barely noticeable. Until recently, major publications preferred to hide the more explicit images of tattooed bodies, because they are “on the verge” and “not for everyone.”
Now let’s pick up the scandalous issue of Vogue US for March 2019 with newlyweds Justin and Hayley Bieber. That’s who once and for all reconciled catchy large-scale tattoos with glossy covers. The issue of British Vogue in May 2020 with Rihanna also played an important role. It turned out to be revolutionary on two counts at once. This is the first cover for Vogue whose heroine has a large tattoo on her face. Moreover, the tattoo is not hidden, but shown in full face (the author of the inscription was makeup artist Isamaya French). The second breakthrough is that for British Vogue this is the first cover with a woman in a fool.
A few words about temporary and permanent
In most countries of the world, tattoos have long been integrated into the usual way of life, the covers of reputable magazines are the last bastion to fall. But we must not forget about the diversity of cultural differences that exist to this day. In some parts of the world, wearable designs evoke rather deep, sometimes completely unattractive associations. This happens in those countries where tattoos are not very tolerant or even considered taboo: in Japan, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and North Korea. However, in general, we can say that the tattoo culture has outlived its controversial reputation, becoming a kind of manifesto of beauty and individuality.
The latest statistical studies show that most of all tattoos are done by not the young generation – people aged 30 to 49 are especially greedy for tattoos. However, take five minutes to scroll through your Instagram feed, and it will quickly become clear to you that tattoos are more common today than ever. What does this mean? One theory says that tattoos will not go anywhere – they will simply take on a different, less durable form.
The strongest beauty players such as Fenty and NYX seem to share this view. They have a range of highly pigmented body tints with rich palettes of colors and shades. It is they who spur some popular characters on social networks to experiment with temporary tattoos and, of course, share it with subscribers. Sophia White, a streamer and makeup artist from the UK, known under the pseudonym Djarii, once decided to tell about her passion for temporary tattoos on Twitch and Instagram – the audience was serious. Sophia is sure that among her fans there are many genders and identities that perceive any body modification as a way of self-expression, which is where such an interest comes from. “Young people are positive about tattoos, they just don’t take the stereotypes associated with them seriously,” she says.
Djarii knows the pressure of her peers – a generation that has matured in the golden era of social media – when it comes to displaying flawless looks. Instaaesthetics tend to change quickly, which in a sense explains the craving for temporary experiments with the body – they allow you to master fleeting trends with minimal losses.
“Body drawings are systematically conquering the beauty industry, I think the lion’s share of the success of all this lies in creative expression. Makeup gives us the opportunity to transform and express ourselves, explains Djarii. – And temporary tattoos allow you to expand the boundaries of creative consciousness without sacrifice and fatal decisions to study your personal image. Today more and more people are beginning to express themselves in this way. “