All Inked Up – The Notorious Tattoo Print Is Back (Yet Again)

Tribal, traditional, blackwork or new school? Whatever your choice, I probably won’t like it. As a self-admitted tattoo misanthrope and a lover of change, I’ve always struggled to come to terms with the idea of anything permanent on my body. Yes, I’m one of those people that (still) can’t grasp the love of embellishing your body for the rest of your life (or so) with something you think is a good idea in one moment in time. This phobia went so far I even rejected the temporary bubblegum tattoos as a child, worrying I wouldn’t be able to wash it off and that the flaming dragon will stay on my forearm forever. Whether for emotional reasons or just because it looks “cool”, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would want anything permanent on their body. That’s why I fell in love with fashion in the first place – thanks to the wonderful notion of being able to change everything about yourself in only a few moments. Throw on a wig, change up your outfit and even put a pair of blue-eyed lenses – all of a sudden, you’re not Judy anymore. You’re Nikita, an undercover agent from Russia with a secret on her mind. That’s who I saw when an image of Bella Hadid coming out of a Met Gala after-party popped up on my Instagram feed. Along with her pussycat wig, she’s wearing a skin-tight vintage Jean Paul Gaultier mesh twinset, only a few weeks after Kim of the Kardashian dynasty wore a similar piece from the JPG archive. Both of these looks took inspiration from full-body tattoos, hailing back to the Gaultier’s Les Tatouages collection for SS94 when the designer defined his vision as “a global village chic.” And while Bella opted out for a powerful message of  “safe sex forever,” Kim K took the dragon route, reinstating her 2009 quote. “You don’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley,” she said on The Wendy Williams Show, making me agree with her for possibly the first time ever. But, what if that bumper sticker was only a trompe l’oeil effect on a garment? Well, bring it on.

Before Gaultier though, it was Martin Margiela who used the inked mesh in his debut collection in 1989 as a long-sleeved top, which was later remade as part of Margiela’s H&M collaboration. And just like it usually happens, the tattoo-effect garments slowly trickled down from the catwalks and onto the (high) street. While many a catwalk trend dwindle down without much noise, this one had a big moment in the first half of the noughties. Don Ed Hardy, a superstar in the tattoo world, licensed his own name as a fashion brand during the early 2000s. It was the late Christian Audigier who turned Ed Hardy from a tattoo household name into a celebrity fashion favourite, with every Hollywood hopeful owning a skin-tight tee printed with hearts, roses and skulls, signed off with gold foil writing. Paris Hilton, Tara Reid, Katie Price and Kim K herself – each of these women knocked a nail on the coffin of the tattoo print trend, as their t-shirts started popping on bootleg markets in every Eastern European village on the map. Remember those completely useless mesh sleeves only the biggest douchebags in your class wore under their tees for about a week?

Almost a whole decade passed before pain-free ink had its catwalk comeback, once again courtesy of the Maison Margiela and their SS14 Artisanal show. Instead of see-through, the tattoo prints were used as embellishments in standalone garments. A year later, it was Dean and Dan that took us all the way back to Ed Hardy as part of the SS16 menswear season. Heavily self-tanned and covered in printed mesh bodysuits, the Dsquared2 boys were the reincarnations of those douche-y boys from school, now grown up and a bit more sophisticated but not letting go off their faux tats. For SS19, it was another comeback – perhaps the chicest one ever since its inception. Rei Kawakubo created gowns and bodysuits out of rose-printed second-skin fabrics for Comme des Garçons. Demna Gvasalia paid homage to Russia at Vetements, with souvenir bodycon tops “tattooed” with the image of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Even couture got inked up as Maria Grazia Chiuri represented a wide range of circus characters in her haute collection at Dior – the iconography of Victorian tattooed ladies made an appearance, with printed bodysuits worn under embellished and see-through dresses and bloomers. Imagine a place where more people went with scribbled-on bodysuits in place of drunken holiday tramp stamps? Tattoo Fixers would be out of work in no time. What a wonderful world…


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