Sima Kumar Tattoos, Luxury Fashion...
Bend It Like Beckham: The Truth About Tattoos
Last week London showed menswear collections for London Fashion Week Men’s. A highlight of that week was the Kent and Curwen collection in partnership with David Beckham. Arguably the most famous and widely accepted tattooed man on the planet currently. Once the sign of a fringe demographic and then rebellion, tattoos are the new normal. A 2012 study showed 1 in 5 adults in the UK had a tattoo. That is 21% of the population. However, in the age group of 18-29-year-olds that number jumps to closer to 40%.
This poses an interesting question for brands and candidates looking for retail careers as the overarching age group falls into the 40% with tattoos. So the question is - are tattoos still a scarlet letter when spotted in your interview or are retailers letting candidates bend it like Beckham so to speak when it comes to the laws of grooming and appearance.
One designer who was way ahead of his time when it comes to tattoos (and piercings) was Jean Paul Gaultier who embraced the aesthetic in his 1994 collections. However, what designers show doesn’t always translate into what the brand ambassadors and retail teams can pull off on the shop floor. Why is that? Currently, there are no stand-alone protection laws for employees who are dismissed over tattoos. But this also isn’t cut and dry for employers either. This is where communication is key. Companies must present their dress codes and brand guidelines for grooming and appearance as early as possible. And it is true, a candidate could lose a job if tattoos are spotted during an interview even when it is never brought up as a deal breaker. In today's hot to sue society, employers need to be as careful to not open themselves up for liable.
When we asked hiring managers in luxury retail, the feedback across the board was if two capable candidates are applying, they always go for the person with no tattoos.
One of the reasons for the slow to turn with the times within the luxury retail sectors is that luxury comes with legacy. Fashion Houses carry a weight of history and history doesn’t rewrite itself in a day. Big changes will come from the groups the houses have as investors.
An easy to understand example of this is Virgil Abloh’s recent appointment as the Artistic Director to Louis Vuitton’s Menswear collection. It’s the house acknowledging the value of an African-American whose creative roots lie in hip-hop as a lucrative value-add to the luxury brand.
So what does this mean for candidates with tattoos, little or large full sleeves looking to temp or enter the world of fashion retail as their career choice? Directory co-founder Younus Desai has some clear insight as he speaks to hiring managers directly. Candidates with face tattoos are the ones facing the most discrimination. No matter how hip a brand is, a face tattoo is still something that comes off as an aggressive life choice. For those with full sleeves looking to get into luxury brands, a long-sleeved shirt and blazer are your best friend. But if you’re someone who has tattoos, Younus suggests looking to brands that embrace your aesthetic. An example would be a brand such as Kent & Curwen, All Saints or new to London, Emperor London. In a nutshell, the path of least resistance is the way to go. Premium to high street brands are much more flexible because of their high traffic and customer profile. However, this doesn’t mean that all luxury brands are a no go for inked up candidates. It just means there are more hurdles to face. As a younger demographic and more agile and entrepreneurial savvy individual becomes a mainstay as the luxury customer, legacy brands are embracing the changing times. However, it is unlikely that you’re going to see an entire shop floor of tattooed retail staff anytime soon in Chanel, Gucci or Dior. The slick all black everything aesthetic still reigns supreme at most luxury brands as seen below.