How many tattoos do you have? Nowadays it seems like everyone has one – I have several myself. It actually bugged me last summer when I went to the lake and realised that almost everyone was tattooed. We made a game out of looking around to see who didn’t have any.
It’s funny though – it really happened quite quickly to get the tattoo to the masses. And by masses I mean, you know, like everyone basically, from the guy working in the supermarket to the woman at the bank, to the bus driver. It’s just common now. I find it interesting to understand and to be part of this evolution. It has become a trend, something fashionable. Maybe it’s even become totally normal?
The History of Tattoos
The history is quite interesting. Did you know that the world tattoo comes from the Tahitian “tatu”, which means “to mark something”? And suddenly it all makes sense: tattooing has existed since 12,000 BC. Anyway, from one culture to another, the role and the evolution of tattooing is different, but we can see similarities. (This will be a tiny version of tattoo history – TINY – so if you want to know more, feel free to read this brief history or this wikipedia piece and maybe watch this video.)
So it normally starts with rituals and traditions. A tattoo was a recognised symbol, a way to get recognised and to know where you stood: the Greeks used to tattoo their spies, Romans used tattoo on criminals and slaves. Being tattooed could also be a way to confirm your social rank: Dayak warriors who had “taken a head” had tattoos on their hands.
In the 1600s, a tattoo was a travel mark made especially popular amongst sailors and those in the armed forces. By seeing your tattoos people were able to see where you’ve been across the sea. It started to be a little trend in the 1700s, where the British Upper class started getting small tattoos in discreet places. The first electric tattooing machine came in 1891; it was what really brought tattoos to a new consumer market: you could now got a tattoo for a reasonable price.
After World War II, tattoos started to get a really bad reputation. At the time a lot of shops didn’t use sterilisation machines, and the reports of blood poisoning and hepatitis increased. Also bikers and juvenile delinquents started to get into the tattoo circle. In some places tattooing was illegal.
Tattooing got a new push in the late 1960’s, when lots of women and pin-ups started to get tattooed. And slowly it all went until today when, well, you know, the tattoo is what it is now.
These days, tattoos won’t prevent you from getting a job, especially with the help of major brands. Of course it always starts with the fashion industry. Brands such as MOSCHINO started featuring tattooed models in their campaigns. Eleven Paris, Diesel and Sisley have too. Perfume advertising also started to use inked models. But when insurance and water brands started to feature tattooed models, this is when you know that tattoos are no longer an elitist thing.
So why do we see more and more tattooed people in the advertising world? Well, brands want to get as many clients or buyers as possible, so they try to use people we will identify with. And right now all of our friends have tattoos, so it’s normal to finally see other tattooed people in adverts.
This phenomenon also brings new trends into the spotlight: tattooed models. I am not talking about the famous models that are getting tattoos like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingne amongst others. I am talking about these new models that are covered with tattoos and will be – let’s be honest – booked for that reason. I am sure that even though you may not know their names, you know their faces. People like Ricki Hall, the big bearded guy, Lexy Hell the German sensation, Miles Langford who was spotted on LANVIN’s campaign, Daniel Bamdad the eye candy and all-time favourite (at least mine), and Billy Huxley, just to name a few.
Funny thing is I am wondering if nowadays tattoos are an element of discrimination (positive or negative) in the modelling industry – maybe not for the established models but for the new generation, the newcomers. In the 90s, if you wanted to become a model you’d have to be tall, thin, to have that particular face… And now do we add to the list that you also need to have a lots of tattoos in visible areas?
Do you remember the skinvertising movement? In the early 2000s, when tattoos started to be really trendy and when the laws around it weren’t as strong as today, we learned about the first human billboard over the net. You know, like people would offer a spot on their skin in exchange for a certain amount of money. You probably remember Billy the Human Billboard, aka “Hostgator Dotcom”, who not only got the logos of several companies and websites tattooed on his body and face, and even changed his name for money.
I find it very interesting to see all the differences in styles of tattoos – graphic lettering, nautical style, watercolor imitation to the finely hand-poked dots and geometric lines. It is fascinating to see this art really growing. A few years ago when tattoos weren’t so big, you wouldn’t find so many different styles either, but because of it’s success and globalisation, of course people are proposing new things in the field. Nowadays you can really choose what you want to have and in which style you want to have it.
As I said previously, I have a few tattoos myself. Living in Berlin, where at the moment tattoo artists are well established, it opens me to a better understanding of the activity. I think it’s now essential to work collaboratively with your tattoo artist. Going to a tattoo shop with an already finished design is a bit out-dated, I think… Going to a tattoo artist with a general idea or to develop a project together, is more common and appropriate now – they are artists, after all.
I work a lot with Madam Chän, she managed to develop such a high technic in what she does, the possibilities are almost endless. Her universe is very playful and she is always ready to take on new challenges.
The other half of my body is dedicated to Philippe Fernandez. His work is remarkable. He works mostly with black linear designs, alternating between thick and fine lines. Philippe’s drawings are exquisite and I love the way he can listen to my project and bring his own world into it. This is real teamwork.
One other artist I really like is Valentin Hirsh. His mythic half-animal faces are stunning. He perfectly works lines and dots to create a beautiful hybrid. He achieves the perfect combination between natural elements and geometric shape. I especially admire the huge pieces he does.
If you are still a tattoo virgin, you have to know that if you start, it won’t just be the one. The urge to get more will grow, which isn’t a bad thing, but I do believe that people should know. I’m just warning you.
Header Photo: Tattoo by Valentin Hirsch
Text: Nicolas Simoneau. KALTBLUT Magazine.