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Pseudo-tattoo clothing vs. the real deal

June 6, 2009

Tattoo fashion is everywhere now. There’s pseudo-tattoo, or “tattoo-inspired” clothing, and then there is the real deal. It’s due time someone gives the full scoop on what is out there. It might as well be me.

Let’s start with Ed Hardy. Ed Hardy is everywhere. Primary colored t-shirts with bold-lined tattoo graphics. There’s also Ed Hardy jeans, bags, drinks, perfumes, you name it. Ed Hardy is worn on every Reality TV show, celebrities of all stripes are seen wearing it in the tabloids. But the genius behind the art that the brand is named for, tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, is lost behind the giant script flourish “Ed Hardy” (by Christian Audigier) splashed across the one-trick-pony graphics of the brand. Let’s face it, Ed Hardy as a brand is one big marketing machine and has little to do with the artistry of tattoo (can you say Ed Hardy air fresheners?).

Ed Hardy shirts feature bold graphics and giant script branding.

Ed Hardy shirts feature bold graphics and giant script branding.

It’s too bad. Don Ed Hardy is an American tattoo artist icon. A protege of the great tattoo legend Sailor Jerry (also has a tattoo clothing line), Don Ed Hardy brought the Japanese style of tattoo art into western tattoo art. His art should transcend the bells and whistles that Christian Audigier has attached to his name. But unfortunately, the massive Audigier branding operation has probably engraved itself deeply, and beyond repair, into the collective conscience now. That’s probably why Don Ed Hardy has now filed suit for over 100 million dollars, in an effort to regain his identity.

Ed Hardy marketing expands to energy drinks, air fresheners, and perfumes.

Ed Hardy marketing expands to energy drinks, air fresheners, and perfumes.

It’s ironic, but in one fundamental sense, the Ed Hardy line by Audigier is not much different then the Sleeves Clothing brand in Hollywood. Not in appearance, but in what the product actually is. Sleeves Clothing aptly defines its tattoo clothing as “fake tattoo” or apparel with the “illusion of tattoos”. Started by Hollywood makeup artist Christien Tinsley, the Sleeves Clothing brand began as a costume design for a film; a shirt designed literally to give off the appearance of an actual tattoo. The shirt created waves after Brad Pitt was photographed wearing the shirt for a two-page spread in L’Uomo Vogue, so Tinsley used the exposure to expand the concept into a larger line of tattoo clothing, which now includes tattoo underwear for women. To Tinsley’s credit, Sleeve’s Clothing doesn’t pretend to be anything beyond it’s “illusion of tattoo” roots, although it certainly can be worn as a fashion statement.

On the couture end of the spectrum, John Galliano rolled out tattoo leggings on the runway for his Christian Dior collection in 2004. He used original work by tattoo artist Tin-Tin. This collaboration spilled over to other “high fashion” designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, and for a time the Paris runway spilled over with tattoo accents. Ultimately, though, even top fashion designers chose the path of “tattoo inspired” motifs, translating original artwork into designs of obscurity, where the art became a kind of modern day paisley, lacking the tattoo origins that shape hearts and minds of people receiving real, personalized tattoos.

Jean Paul Gaultier transformed tattoo art into modern day paisley.

Jean Paul Gaultier transformed tattoo art into modern day paisley.

In the background, a quiet giant is quickly rising; one that bridges the divide between the oversaturated pop-culture approach of Audigier’s Ed Hardy and the diluted art approach of the big fashion designers. YellowMan Tattoo Clothing by Peter Mui boasts the largest collection of original tattoo art from over 70 of the top tattoo artists around the world. Mui has been building his massive art collection for nearly two decades, and started building his tattoo clothing brand before Galliano, Gaultier and Ed Hardy, and others hit the scene with their tattoo clothing collections.

YellowMan's impressive archive of art from over 70 tattoo artists worldwide is strong and growing.

YellowMan's impressive archive of art from over 70 tattoo artists worldwide is strong and growing.

But if you are wondering why YellowMan isn’t a household name yet in the growing tattoo clothing arena, there is a reason: Peter Mui has chosen the distinct path of “art first, everything else follows”. Mui is not watering down the original art for the sake of fashion, and is not whacking everyone over the head with marketing schemes to promote name recognition. Mui has instead chosen the path of the tortoise, where the slow and steady promotion of individual, original art will likely win the race of longevity. YellowMan tattoo clothing is authentic, made with unadulterated tattoo art. It has all the hallmarks of fashion and function, but Peter Mui will tell you himself that he dislikes the word “fashion”, and views his line as “everyday clothing” for all people, to be worn however the individual wants to wear it.

The YellowMan brand is built on a sincere love for the art of tattoo, and the admiration for the artists and their respective cultures and traditions. YellowMan doesn’t just offer an extremely wide range of tattoo art and styles, but also garments. Limited edition shirts are featured in long sleeve styles, but there are also t-shirts, underwear, cycling shirts, and first-layer performance items made with proprietary MadKool technical fabrics that boast superior performance. For all of YellowMan’s positive traits, their clothing can be on the pricey side, but the price tag isn’t gratuitous. It goes towards the cost of commissioning the original art and careful manufacturing of high-quality garments.

YellowMan tattoo clothing is all about the authenticity of the art.

YellowMan tattoo clothing is all about the authenticity of the art.

There are other tattoo clothing capsules, like the recently announced limited edition Star Wars tattoo shirt collection that is in the works. This collection aims to produce limited edition shirts based on original art from a range of prominent tattoo artists. Shirts are to be packaged in collectible tins that feature the artwork.

Tattoo shops frequently sell small lines of their own tattoo shirts. Wild Rose Tattoo in Milwaukee, WI has taken their tattoo clothing line seriously, and have risen to modest prominence in the last year. They offer nylon shirts similar to those of Sleeves Clothing, as well as leggings and select cotton tees.

There are too many tattoo clothing brands/lines to list them all. One thing is for sure though, there is quite an appetite these days to wear tattoos. If you are in the market for tattoo clothing, hopefully this post offers some background to help you make a choice that best suits you.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2009 3:46 am

    Great article! It’s about time someone pointed out the distinction between authentic tattoo clothing and “tattoo-inspired” clothing.

    You might have also mentioned that Ed Hardy is also branded as “Hardy Authentic”. It their case, “authentic” does not mean quite the same thing as it does with YellowMan.

    Thanks for the good word.


  1. A who’s who on tattoo clothing « YellowMan Blog
  2. A who’s who of tattoo clothing « YellowMan Blog

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