I first heard the name Ed Hardy when I was maybe eleven or twelve. I knew the name because while shopping with my dad he pointed out a funky looking t-shirt, with a tattoo-like design covering it. He bought it for me, and it was probably the most expensive piece of clothing I owned. It cost no less than $80. At the time, I had no idea who Ed Hardy was and why a shirt with his name on it cost so damn much, so I just assumed he was some big name fashion designer. Now, of course, I know that long before Hardy was designing pricey tees, he was playing tattoo artist with his neighborhood friends, apprenticing under Sailor Jerry, and becoming a big name in that tattoo industry. In this sense, Hardy’s transformation from tattoo artist to multimillionaire fashion designer exemplifies the commercialization and commoditization of the tattoo industry.
It is no secret that tattooing is not a way to get rich. However big names like Hardy and Kat Von D have found a way to make it big tattooing. Hardy did so by using his own and Sailor Jerry’s flash to design clothing. Von D, and many others, did so by starring in television series. These forms of commercialization served as both an introduction of tattooing to the mainstream, and a spur of the commodification of the art. When tattooing hit the mainstream, it lost its sense of individualism. Today tattooing is rarely done freehand. Flash is simply replicated in a way that two people can get the same tattoo. In addition, as 55% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 are tattooed, there is no longer a sense of uniqueness that used to accompany tattoos. Tattoos used to represent being a part of something, the military, a movement, or just a fan of rock n’ roll, while today they are more or less just accessories.
Hardy’s production of tattoo-like clothing represents the ordinariness of body art today. I’ve already seen multiple people wearing Ed Hardy today and it’s only 2:15. I am in no way blaming Hardy for the overall commercialization of the tattoo industry, but suggesting that his transformation from classical tattoo artist, to big name designer and entrepreneur, does not quite follow example of his predecessors.