Tattoos ride up and down on the see-saw of acceptability. If you own a Harley Davidson, you're allowed them. If you've been in a rock band, or hope to be in one, then by all means have something splayed across your bicep. And if you're a celebrity parent, it is basically mandatory to have the name of your children inked over you. One presumes it's the only way that Angelina can remember them all. It's different for we mortals. Some of us may bear the traces of tattoo experiments of ages past, tucked away on shoulder blades, hips, ankles or inner wrists. Some may have gone further, with colourful patterns snaking their way along arms or down backs. But even though tattoos like these have unquestionably become more mainstream in recent years, there still exists the belief held by some that "tramp stamps" are tacky, unsightly or - whisper it - just plain common.
Not so for Karl Lagerfeld, who is newly in favour, having sent models skittering down the his spring/summer 2010 show in Paris last year plastered in tattoos. Had he recruited his models from the ranks of metal bands? Nope, he had simply stuck transfers all over them. Fake tattoos, I can hear you wondering; are those not what we played with aged eight, retrieved from the dusty depths of a cereal box? Well, yes. But these are not just any fake tattoos, these are Chanel fake tattoos developed by the label's creative director, Peter Philips. They feature little swallows, interlocking "double C" icons, chains and delicate cherry blossom sprigs.
At the show in which they made their debut, the American model Heidi Mount wore multiple chains around her wrists, and the Polish model Kasia Struss had several strands wrapped around her skinny thigh, a single chain and interlocking "C" shape swinging off it and snaking down her leg. Lara Stone had a similar chain strung just above her knee. Body art would be "huge" next season, noted the onlooking fashionistas.
So, unsurprisingly, Chanel then released this art in a set of 55 individual tattoos, called Les Trompe L'Oeil de Chanel, which are now available in the UAE for Dh303. You might reasonably expect them to come glittering in gold leaf for the cost, but up close they look fairly ordinary. All black and white, the only signal that they're Chanel is the brand icon stamped over several of them. Your hackles may rise at the thought of branding yourself with such a symbol. Is wearing the interlocking C or a diving swallow the height of sophistication just because they're Chanel? Or the height of vulgarity?
Hard to know when to wear them, either. You can hardly wander the streets every day with a jaunty Chanel chain swinging down your leg. Would they be acceptable at the office? On the beach? Or just for parties? Well, last weekend a ripe opportunity presented itself. A boat party. Perfect. For that, I could deck myself with tattoos and look like a proper seafaring type. A modern day Popeye, perhaps.
Putting the chains on your wrists without help is tricky. You need to cut one out, peel off the protective film, stick it on, wet the paper and hold it there for 30 seconds. This requires co-ordination, and my early efforts came out sightly mangled. More Claire's Accessories than Chanel. Emboldened by practice, however, I stuck a small bird on my wrist above the chain, through which was linked a double C. My inner arm was starting to look like a cartouche. I was delighted. So I added a chain on my other arm.
And then I tried to wrap some around my legs. A word of advice here: unless the circumference of your thigh is small - say that of a roll of fruit pastilles - you will need more than one transfer. And unless you have good legs anyway, I wouldn't bother because these tattoos are not made to flatter chubby thighs. I gave up in the end and concentrated on my arms. As I wandered around Waitrose that evening, picking at the shelves, I could feel people peering at them and thinking: "Is that girl really dim enough to have the Chanel logo tattooed on her arm?"
"What on earth is that?" asked one friend when I boarded the boat on Friday. "A Chanel tattoo of course," I replied nonchalantly. She made a face, but others were impressed. "Oooh can I have one?" squealed my friend Kate. The reaction, in general, was mixed. Girls were largely in favour as a bit of fun, with boys wrinkling their noses. Of course, most of us would choose not to have the logo etched permanently into our skins. Fortunately, I was brand free after three days and a good scrub. But much like Chanel's scent and make-up ranges, the tattoos are entry-level buys with a short shelf-life for those of us who can't stretch to a quilted bag.
Frivolous, sure; tacky, oh yes. But a canny marketing tool as well. And for that alone, Lagerfeld should be applauded. Hats off for his "tats", if you like. Les Trompe L'Oeil de Chanel are available at Chanel in Dubai Mall and at the Chanel make-up counter in Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates.