It’s no secret that tattoos have become increasingly popular—in fact, downright mainstream—over the past few years. They’ve gone from a subcultural phenomenon to a growing part of pop culture. Still, they’ve remained largely absent from the world of haute couture throughout this time. That is, until now. Over the past two weeks alone, we’ve seen big, bold (temporary) tattoos on red carpets and runways. So is this the year that tattoos become fashion? If this month is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
The relationship between tattoos and fashion isn’t new, though. Body art has been inspiring fashion brands for generations—as far back as 1971 at least, when Japanese designer Issey Miyake released his “Tattoo” dress. And tattooed models aren’t exactly a new phenomenon either. However, in the past, tattooed models have fallen into two main categories: men with big, bold tattoos; and men and women with small, dainty pieces. Take Kendall Jenner, the world’s highest paid model, for instance. She has three tattoos, but got all of her visible pieces done in white ink, which means they’re easily hidden when she walks the runway. And she’s just one example.
So while men with large-scale, highly visible ink have been walking the runway for years, femme models have been mostly resigned to covert designs. This division doesn’t reflect the increased cultural appetite for tattoos, but it finally seems to be changing.
Tattoos have found their way onto femme-focused, couture runways before (we’re talking about Dior’s Spring 2018 couture collection), albeit not often, and never quite like this past Wednesday when, during Paris Couture Fashion Week, Viktor & Rolf debuted its Spring 2020 collection on models wearing large-scale, highly visible (neck, face, hand, and chest) ink. It seems that Viktor & Rolf have picked up on one of the top 2020 tattoo trends: high-visibility designs. Here, they used old-school inspired tattoos—primarily gothic text pieces and American Traditional style illustrations—in place of other accessories.
This comes just two weeks after Billy Porter hit the Critics’ Choice red carpet wearing two full tattoo sleeves. Known for challenging gender norms through his clothing, Porter opted to wear a silk gown-like jumpsuit to the awards show and accessorized with dozens of colorful butterfly tattoos (they were temporary) designed specifically to complement his outfit. Porter told Entertainment Tonight, that “the butterflies are a symbol of the transgender community…[They represent] how you come from the cocoon, you come as one thing, and then you transform into something else.” Here, the actor has also challenged the norms of tattoos in fashion by opting for smaller, feminine designs. And he rocks them so well.
Fashion, and especially haute couture, can feel notoriously highbrow. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long for tattoos, which have historical ties to violence and crime, to be fully embraced by the fashion world. But it seems like that’s finally happening, so we’re calling it: this is the year that tattoos become fashionable. And despite the fact that the two examples we’ve shared here involve temporary ink—which is also on the rise—we have a hunch that we’ll be seeing a lot more permanent tattoos on models of all genders in 2020 and beyond, too. It only makes sense considering the growing popularity of tattoos around the globe.