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Inked Couture: Exploring High Fashion’s Fascination with Tattoos


Have you ever wondered about the history of tattoos and how they got to be an artistic expression in every corner of society? Well, I can tell you something, the tattoo journey has been fascinating throughout history!

Gone are the days when tattoos were seen as rebellious scribbles on the skin of outcasts. Fast forward a few decades, and they’ve become mainstream, proudly displayed by folks from all backgrounds. 

This shift hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fashion world, where a cool new trend called “inked couture” is blending tattoos and high fashion seamlessly. 

Buckle up, because this article dives deep into the fascinating phenomenon of tattoos and fashion, exploring its past, its impact on culture, and where it might be headed next.

History of Tattoos in Fashion

Okay, first things first – let’s dive into the history of tattoos in the fashion industry! Throughout history, tattoos have been utilised for aesthetic purposes, but their integration into contemporary fashion has been subject to changing societal views. 

By the middle of the 20th century, tattoos were commonly linked with sailors, motorcycle enthusiasts, and nonconformists, effectively setting them apart from high-end fashion. 

Nevertheless, the 1970s saw a shift in the counterculture movement, as tattoos became increasingly favoured by artists, musicians, and fashion creators. 

But who were the pioneers of this blending movement? Well, Vivienne Westwood, a prominent figure in punk culture, integrated audacious tattoo-inspired elements into her designs. Additionally, well-known personalities such as Cher and Jane Fonda proudly displayed visible tattoos, defying conventional societal expectations.

During the 1990s and 2000s, there was an increased acceptance of tattoos, as evidenced by renowned fashion photographers like Annie Leibovitz, who showcased models adorned with tattoos in their iconic campaigns. 

Notably, designer Jean Paul Gaultier incorporated prints inspired by tattoos into his collections, while Alexander McQueen made a significant impact by featuring tattooed models on the runway in 2004, sparking discussions about the symbolic nature of tattoos and their representation of beauty and uniqueness.

In other words, tattoos went from secret symbols to high fashion statements almost overnight. Pretty wild, huh? And it all happened because people dared to be different and express themselves, one bold design at a time.

So, from now on, every time you are looking for a tattoo shop, think about this amazing journey. And remember, choosing a tattoo isn’t just about ink on the skin—it’s about amplifying your unique voice and personal expression. Embrace this opportunity to make a lasting statement about who you are!

16th September 2023, The Block, London. KWK by Kay Kwok presents his catwalk show as part of London Fashion Week. © Chris Yates/ Chris Yates Media

Cultural Impact and Controversies

The emergence of inked couture has triggered conversations surrounding cultural appropriation and inclusivity. Detractors contend that designers who appropriate tattoo themes from particular cultures without comprehending their meaning can demonstrate a lack of respect. 

Nevertheless, forming partnerships with tattoo artists from these cultures and displaying a wide range of perspectives has the potential to stimulate cross-cultural conversation and admiration.

Continuing discussions revolve around the professional consequences associated with visible tattoos. Although they are becoming more widely accepted in various sectors, certain workplaces still maintain unfavourable perspectives. This emphasises the necessity for ongoing discussions regarding the acceptance of tattoos and the dismantling of prevailing stigmas.

Tattoos as a Fashion Statement

For numerous people, tattoos go beyond mere decorative enhancements; they function as representations of personal identity, cultural background, or life journeys. 

This grants them a profound storytelling quality, rendering them one-of-a-kind fashion declarations. People have the ability to craft their own unique narratives through the use of tattoos, allowing them to showcase their individuality and establish connections with like-minded individuals who share similar experiences or aesthetic preferences.

Tattoos’ Influence on High Fashion

The increasing societal embrace of tattoos has had a profound influence on the world of haute couture, and it has for several years now. 

Fashion designers have been progressively integrating models with tattoos into their advertising initiatives, effectively highlighting the range of beauty ideals. 

Moreover, there is a growing presence of tattoo-inspired patterns, stitching, and even replicated tattoos created through 3D printing on apparel, creating an overlap between enduring body markings and fleeting fashion trends.

Collaborations Between Tattoo Artists and Fashion Brands

A noteworthy progress in inked fashion is the emergence of cooperative efforts between esteemed tattoo artists and fashion labels. These collaborations harness the artists’ distinctive visual style and narrative talents to produce exclusive apparel, accessories, and even collections showcased on the runway. 

These partnerships not only enhance the status of tattoo art to a greater extent but also offer artists opportunities to display their skills to a broader range of viewers.

The Future of Ink in Fashion

There is a promising outlook for the future of inked couture. With tattoos increasingly being embraced by mainstream society and evolving into refined means of self-representation, their impact on the world of fashion is expected to further intensify. 

Anticipate a rise in prestigious fashion labels embracing partnerships with tattoo artists, expanding the horizons of both their creative concepts and narratives. Moreover, progressions in wearable technology may pave the way for the incorporation of temporary tattoos that react to emotions, motion, or even music, resulting in genuinely customised and dynamic fashion encounters.

In Summary…

Having evolved from their rebellious origins to now being regarded as cultural icons and sources of high-fashion inspiration, tattoos have undergone significant transformations. Inked couture serves as a captivating fusion of self-expression, creativity, and aesthetics, transcending the conventional norms of both tattoo artistry and the realm of fashion. 

With diminishing social stigmas and advancements in technology, the prospects for incorporating ink into fashion appear full of inventive and captivating opportunities. Whether functioning as impactful personal expressions or fuelling awe-inspiring creations, tattoos are set to firmly establish their presence within the realm of high fashion.

Intro image: NOKI SS24 at London Fashion Week

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