What is taste? What is style? For centuries, we’ve used our outward appearance to denote our taste. We’ve been billboards for brands, products, colors, artists, our hometown bars. We’ve used our own bodies as a way to send a message to other people around us: what we love, maybe what we hate, how we vote, who we pray to.
The truth is, most of this is a form of peacocking. We use our style and our fashion sense to both claim ourselves as unique individuals while also signalling to others who might be like us. We’re using our clothing, jewelry, hats, boots, and tattoos as a way to silently (or not so silently) tell everyone around us what we like. That’s how style works, at its essence, and taste dictates style. It’s a hard thing to pin down, this thing called taste, because it doesn’t really have a true set of guidelines. The shape and form of one item or television show or piece of furniture might get you high as a kite while it might make your boyfriend cringe. What might appeal to the masses might make you feel alienated, and what you love to stare at in a museum might freak out your mother. The truth is, this is all alright: taste is a broad spectrum, and there is no right or wrong.
One (rising and growing in mainstream popularity) form of taste is tattoos, and a way to tell when something is hitting a true zeitgeist is how frequently you see said thing in the fashion and brand worlds. Those of us on the fringe (maybe you loved punk before it was dead, maybe you’ve had your tattoo sleeves since the 1980s, maybe you loved that director ‘before he sold out’) are used to seeing our favorite things consumed and reconstituted for public, mainstream consumption. The way the art and fashion worlds have always played and shared, this sort of feedback loop is inevitable. The truly meaningful way to keep this from being a hollow experience is for a brand, entity, fashion haus, or otherwise to know what’s real from what’s not.
We’ve all encountered the “tattoo style” prints and designs that seem like someone took a moment on Pinterest and sliced some stuff together in Photoshop. While charming, products like that are aimed at riding the wave of current cultural growth around tattoos, without digging into the real depth of tattoo culture itself. By instead working directly with artists, brands are elevating the actual hand artistry of tattooing, and providing new, historically-relevant meaning to their products.
In September, Adidas announced a collaboration on some of their snowboarding gear with artist Ganji Bang of Three Tides Tattoo. Working together with Capita Snowboard, Adidas is highlighting Kazu Kokubu, a snowboarder who’s won multiple awards. The intersecting cultures here are what make this a stand-out collab: Kazu’s Japanese heritage coupled with Ganji, an artist based right in Tokyo, on the actual type of gear Kazu uses. It’s fresh, and isn’t a copy of a copy of a copy, which is what can happen with some of this work. It’s gotten, perhaps, too easy to scrape the surface of a culture and an idea. Adidas goes deep here.
Earlier this year, in April, Berluti also worked with Scott Campbell to create five original designs for their leather goods. Campbell says, “Like me, Berluti strives to celebrate skin – but in an alternative way. This collaboration feels natural and rewarding for me.” Berluti is a brand known for its high quality and attention to detail and craft; this collaboration just emphasizes their dedication to craftsmanship.
Also in April, Hublot collaborated with Maxime Buchi to design a watch, and the end result is gorgeous. They’ve captured his unique geometric style in the face of the watch itself, and not by printing his handiwork, but reinterpreting his shapes for the materials. Now, Buchi’s geometry has actual, physical dimension. It’s wild to look at.
And as we’ve covered before, in October, TOD’s Bags hired artist Saira Hunjan to tattoo on limited edition leather bags. TOD’s has gone the extra mile with this particular collab, because Hunjan is working right on the leather itself. We get to see the artist’s actual hand in the design, and the texture of the leather is indelibly inked.
In 2012, Swatch worked with French artist Tin-Tin to design fully-wrapped watches of his work. Tin-Tin describes his designs as “timeless, quickly identifiable and immutable drawings: examples of tattoo art in the collective unconscious." And it’s true: even without being able to completely make out the content of the work, we can see in his line work how clearly his Japanese style is represented.
It’s not all wearable though. Sometimes a brand is smart enough to realize that we’re going to be drawn in by glancing at a shelf in a store. Also in 2012, Absolut Vodka worked with Dr. Lakra to design a primo bottle wrap and packaging design for their Mexican label. Utilizing classic Mayan imagery, Dr. Lakra created a stand-out bottle design that’s easy on the eyes, and on a crowded liquor rack, it would definitely make someone pause.
Tattoos informing style is as timeless as leopard print or gingham. Illustration as a means to bring a brand to the next level has always been a tried and true bid, and as more individuals are covered in tattoos, so should their favorite products be. After all, another aspect of our human desire for being surrounded by like-minded souls is the desire to see ourselves everywhere — we want to be reflected in our media, our products. It’s a safety mechanism as much as it is a form of taste, a means to find our own species. The crucial secret is, perhaps, being able to tell the mimicry from the real thing.