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A Skin Meets Style Statement: Horiyoshi the Third

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From Chanel, Beyonce's House of Dereon and Betsey Johnson's temporary fashion tattoos, to Louis Vuitton's SS11 man-bag in collaboration with tattoo artist Scott Campbell, and Christian Audigier's collections featuring Ed Hardy's iconic tattoo designs - the fusion of body inking and fashion has long been making a powerful statement.
As Amy Larocca recently wrote in The New York Times magazine, 'In what is perhaps the greatest fashion shift of a generation, tattoos are now as desired and admired as a CĂ©line bag, a Prada shoe, or one of those long mountain-man beards.'

And now for the history bit - just in case you didn't already know, the word "tattoo" was first introduced in Europe in 1771 by explorer James Cook, after a voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand where he discovered a "tattaw", which was described as a scarring, painting, or staining of the skin (so now you know).
Tattooing is an ancient art form and one of the masters of irezumi (as it's known in Japan), is Horiyoshi III, who was inspired to start practising the art after an encounter with a Yakuza (Japanese gangster), sporting a full body tattoo or "suit".
Now Horiyoshi is considered one of the world's most revered tattoo artists, working from a secluded atelier in Japan, crammed with all manner of the macabre, such as skulls and Japanese Noh theatre masks.

In 2009, Steve Suk, a client of Horiyoshi's, suggested he combine his work with a fashion line, and later Horiyoshi the Third was born, a men's and womenswear label co-founded by Suk, which reworks the artist's designs across luxurious knitwear, t-shirts, sweaters, denim, silk & cashmere scarves. The label is now a must-have among the movers and shakers of popular culture, with fans including Johnny Depp, Sienna Miller and Tilda Swinton.
Featuring dark yet beautiful imagery including mythological creatures, snakes, moon bats and tigers, and accessories such as corpse beaded skulls to add some edgy chic to your home or work environment, the mystical allure of Horiyoshi the Third is too tempting to resist. I met with Creative Director, Dawn Green, to talk tattoowear and One Direction!

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How did the fashion line originate?

Steve Suk, our co-owner was actually a client of Horiyoshi and has a full body suit which they had been working on for years. Nearing the end of the project, he suggested to Horiyoshi that they maybe do something fashion related together, as Horiyoshi had always been into fashion and collected any pieces by designers which feature tattoo art, like Gaultier and Westwood. Horiyoshi wanted to do a fashion brand, but something very chic and unusual.

Tell me about the design process, how do you decide what artwork to use?

Everything is made in Japan, and we use the artwork but most of the time you can't even tell it's a tattoo design, it's very underground, and it's only the real fans who know what the design is about. Horiyoshi creates fresh drawings created just for the label, and other times we will use his archive. We have also used artwork from his exhibitions such as the one at Somerset House last year, which featured his silk painting 'Moonbats', a moody design featuring moonbats just floating in the air - that's where the suit Tilda Swinton wore for the Timothy Everest event came from. (The suit forms part of a collaboration between Everest and Horiyoshi the Third to combine the art of tattooing and tailoring).

Does Horiyoshi himself have a lot of involvement in the design process?

We show him what we want to do and we try to use his designs in the way he would do things himself - such as a piece that wraps itself around the body would be inspired by one of his artworks wrapping itself around the body. He has an archive of one of everything that we've made. In the beginning we just did scarves and knitwear, but it's grown as a collection as we've got to know our customer. We have a fabulous lady in Japan, myself and Steve (Yuk), and we work together. It is quite deconstructed, very simple shapes, the cuts have to be beautiful, the fabrics have to feel nice on the skin because it's all about skin for us. The price points on the product are high, but that's because we feel we have to stay true to what we're doing.

Why did you choose London as a launch pad for the boutique?

Opening a shop to begin with wasn't something we thought about very seriously, I was actually looking for an office space for the business. But we eventually opened the shop because it's off the beaten track and it suits what we're doing, and it's a really affluent area (the shop is based in London's Connaught Street, W2 ). Retail for us has become really strong and destination shopping is big for us, fans of Horiyoshi come to the store, the arty crowd, and Sam-Taylor Wood and Tilda Swinton have been fans from the beginning. A lot of our customers are film producers and artists, and when they're in town they come to see us. One Direction are also a fan of the men's t-shirts, their manager showed them some of our pieces and they loved them. As a band they make up their own minds about fashion and wear what they like, rather than listen to stylists all the time, so it's great when they choose to wear our pieces!

Who is the Horiyoshi the Third customer?

With the exception of One Direction!, mainly 30 to 50-year-olds, and the women's market is stronger which is strange because in monetary terms the women's collection is more expensive, but that's because it's more evolved as a collection. Men spend a lot on the t-shirts and jackets, such as the designer Haider Ackerman wore our tiger bomber jacket to his menswear presentation in Paris which we just loved! It makes you feel so proud to see, and because personally I love everything he does.

You recently collaborated with the bespoke tailor Timothy Everest for London Collections Men SS14, and Tilda Swinton appears in a film to promote the collaboration. Tell me more?

Tilda likes things which are genuine and she's loved Horiyoshi's artwork from the beginning, and for the collaboration, Timothy Everest approached us via a mutual friend, and it seemed like a perfect synergy for us. Tilda actually gave us an idea for the white suit in the collection, as she said 'If I had a tattoo, I would want it to be a white tattoo on white skin', so when she left we said, 'We have to do a suit in white, white on white just for her!'. The film (Findhorn, directed by Johnnie Shand Kydd), promotes the collaboration and is about the process of all the elements of a bespoke fitting, like all the weird shapes and angles you have to make so the design fits to your body. In the film Tilda adopts those positions wearing a half-made bespoke suit, filmed in her own landscape, and it's very natural. She's definitely a muse for the Horiyoshi brand.

Do you think you'll do more collaborations in the future?

Yes definitely. The archive is so amazing and we're never going to run out of things to do and we would love for someone fabulous to say they would love to use something of ours.

Why do you think tattooing is still such a strong movement and has become more of a fashion trend in recent years?

Well there are people like ZombieBoy (Rick Genest) who have helped to popularise it in fashion, because he appeared in the ad campaigns for designers like Mugler. In fact he found out about our label and came to our suite in Paris once, and placed an order for the collection which was really cool.

I think people in general are becoming more knowlegeable about tattoos, and researching what they want to have done, it's almost like there's a tattoo snobbery now of who you go to, especially because there are so many bad tattoos out there!

For more info on Horiyoshi the Third, head to www.thethiiird.com