“It is the unstable nature of denim — the fact that it fades, shows signs of age and wear, tells the story of your interaction with it, and becomes a physical repository of your memories — that makes it so fascinating as a material,” says Dean Gomilsek-Cole, Turnbull & Asser’s Head of Design. And what you should know is that, although he heads the single-most fabled British shirtmaker, holder of a Royal Warrant and outfitter to ever iconic British men, from Winston Churchill to the Prince of Wales, Gomilsek-Cole and the other denizens of Turnbull & Asser are rooted in the prevailing aesthetics of the modern world and in possession of that one elusive quality: genuine, unadulterated and irrefutable coolness. So when the idea of collaborating with one of Britain’s most renowned tattoo artists, Mo Coppoletta, was broached, he seized the opportunity.
“Tattooing in England has a remarkable history,” says Gomilsek-Cole. “It was brought here by sailors from James Cook’s expedition to the South Pacific, where they met Polynesians who had decorated their bodies with inked designs.” Coppoletta adds: “What most people don’t know is that the earliest adopters for tattoo culture was high society, military officers and even royalty.”
Indeed, Sutherland Macdonald, the first tattoo artist in Victorian England, tattooed several of the Queen’s sons, as well as the kings of Denmark and Norway. Tattooing became so popular among the haut monde that King Edward VII, who acquired a large tattoo of a Jerusalem cross after his visit to the Holy Land, became one of the art form’s greatest advocates. When his sons the Duke of York (later King George V) and the Duke of Clarence visited Japan, he bade their tutor to deposit them at the premises of master tattoo artist Hori Chiyo, who decorated both of their arms. This gave rise to the increasing popularity of tattoos in the upper ranks of the military, perfectly expressed by Field Marshal Earl Roberts, who urged his men to emulate his enthusiasm for the art form. He stated with absolute certainty and typical sangfroid: “Every officer in the British Army should be tattooed with his regimental crest. Not only does it demonstrate esprit de corps but assists in the identification of casualties.”
James Fayed, Turnbull & Asser’s owner and an occasional visitor to Coppoletta’s iconic studio The Family Business, says: “The more we researched tattooing in Victorian England and throughout the 19th century, the more we felt a spiritual kinship for the art form.” Says Coppoletta: “I was inspired by vintage military bandages that showed you how to bind and dress injuries with these illustrations. I thought it would be both humorous and practical to illustrate how to utilise the square in different rakish situations, such as swaddling a newborn baby or covering a puddle for an elegant woman to walk over.”