BENJAMIN CHAIT ’16
One of the most underrated and sexy images of our time is the portrait of actress Angelina Jolie in a bathtub in the Ritz Hotel in Paris, France. The photo, shot by Annie Leibovitz for Tom Ford’s Hollywood portfolio in “Vanity Fair,” features a naked Jolie with her back and head turned to the camera, half-submerged in about eight inches of soapy water. Besides Jolie’s breathtaking beauty and Leibovitz’s skillful technique, what makes this images stand out from other nude celebrity portraits are the three visible tattoos on Jolie’s back. Jolie has well over a dozen tattoos, and the three visible in this portrait are “know your rights” written between her shoulder blades, a prayer on her shoulder, and a tiger on the entirety of her lower back. Jolie’s tattoos are all done in black ink and have meanings stemming from her family to her travels, and even her humanitarian work. Jolie is arguably the most famous actress in the world, and considered to be as important to celebrity and glamour culture as Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn. However her classically beautiful looks are given a touch of modernity and unique edge via her stunning collection of tattoos.
Beyond Jolie’s influence, tattoos have really become in style over the last 20 years. Though tattoos have been around for quite a while and exist in many forms, they are now beginning to be perceived in a more positive light. These days many celebrities and sports stars, as well as ordinary people, have tattoos. What makes tattoos so special is that are not just physical statements of style, but rather stylish external expressions of emotion. Tattoos are also a great style investment. People often say that a pea coat, a little black dress, or a well-cut suit will last a lifetime, but tattoos really do more than these material goods. They are the ultimate style accessory.
Two of the fashion world’s biggest icons are large fans of tattoos as well. Designer Marc Jacobs is covered in them; the purveyor of fine taste, has some of the campiest tattoos out there, however they’re done by one the best tattoo artists, Scott Campbell, at Saved in Brooklyn, New York. Among Jacob’s thirty-plus tattoos are Elizabeth Taylor in 3-D glasses, a collection of rainbow stars, SpongeBob SquarePants, Kermit the Frog, the red M&M, a donut, the work “Shameless” on his chest, and two self portraits: one as a Simpson and one as a character from South Park. Though they’re anything but classic and timeless, they are purely for fun, and for a man who puts out so much beauty in the world, it somehow seems to work.
The model Freja Beha Erichsen, who has been the face of many brands, has 16 tattoos. Erichsen has mastered an elusive beauty which lends itself to being both masculine and feminine. Her skinny frame and all-black style has not been seen since supermodel Kate Moss broke into the fashion world in the 1990’s. What Erichsen did perfectly was understand that all of her tattoos must fit together in some way. They all perfectly complement each other and all of her text tattoos are done in the same unique font. It is so refreshing to watch the playback from a fashion show and see Erichsen in a full-length couture gown with the word “float” on her neck. It not only makes her stand out, but also gives light to the future- these beautiful gowns will now be worn by stunning girls who have tattoos.
Helen Mirren has a subtle one on her hand while rapper Lil’ Wayne is completely covered—eyelids and all. Singer Rhianna has a vast collection of tattoos that reflect her personal strength. Actor Brad Pitt has a few done in a very minimal and abstract fashion, including a design sketched by his life partner, Angelina Jolie.
There are no official rules for tattoos, but here are some suggestions. Stick with black ink, it’s more classic than color, it will also look better with age. Think of placement- uncommon places like the middle of the back, back of the forearm and on the thigh can be different and cool. Classic symbols like numbers, religious symbols, names, designs from state flags, nautical and army symbols, and Latin phrases show depth as well as timelessness. Don’t be afraid to think abstractly. Think about the meaning of a tattoo and a way it can be played with. For example, for my second tattoo I chose a fly-fishing hook on my wrist in lieu of a full text quote from my favorite book, “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. Lastly, regardless of the sentiment, getting a tattoo of a rose on one’s lower back in honor of a deceased grandmother is never a good idea. Instead look to what Caroline Picerne ’15 did. Picerne’s grandmother passed away on her fifth birthday, so she got her grandmother’s nickname “Doll” tattooed on her wrist. Doll became Picerne’s nickname, so the tattoo has a very sentimental meaning.
Even at a fairly traditional school like Trinity, many students have tattoos. While some people here rock many tattoos—like Carolyn Zimmer ’15 who has four, others choose a more modest route. Last year I discovered that my friend, Benjamin Plumer ’14, has a Palmetto tree and a half moon (the design featured on the state flag of South Carolina) under his right arm. Plumer got his tattoo because his family is from South Carolina and he personally feels connected and most happy there. His tattoo is a prime example of one that is subtle, masculine, timeless, and most importantly, meaningful. Similarly, I was captivated when I learned that Elaine Kissel ’16 had her father’s initials tattooed on the back of her neck. The hidden tattoo is done in a simple font and is a perfect example of a minimal tattoo.
Many worry that their tattoos will turn out to be major regrets, obstacles in the job process, or ends to family ties, but Kissel and Plumer’s tattoos are examples that shatter all of those fears.
So, why not get the tattoo you’ve been fantasizing about having? Whether your tattoo is on public display or completely private, it adds a profound sense of mystery. Not only are they, for the most part, physically attractive, but the question “what does your tattoo mean?” is one of the sexiest questions that can be posed.
Personally, I have twelve tattoos. In order, I have “Et tu, Brute?” on the left side of my chest, a fly fishing hook on my right wrist, Ernest Hemingway as a boxer on my right thigh, an anchor on my left arm, “XIV” on my left wrist, a bee on my left shoulder, a staircase on my left hip, a button on my right leg, an “H” on my right elbow, a pearl on my left wrist, a fox on the back of my right arm, and most recently, “G. Edward” (my father’s first initial and middle name) on my left forearm. They all stand for people, places, works of art, film, literature and poems that mean a lot to me. And even though relationships ended with three of the people for whom I got tattoos for, I have no regrets. They all represent important moments in my life. Though I have no plans for a sleeve, I do plan to get more. Life is full of such wonderful moments and people, and I love documenting—in ink on flesh—the impacts they have had on me.