Celebrity tattoo artists - Who do they ink they are?

We’ve had A-list hairdressers and celebrity stylists – now the tattoo artists to the stars are stepping into the limelight. Gillian Orr gets under their skin

Vidal Sassoon. Nicky Clarke. John Frieda. Hairdressers to the stars have become as recognisable as their big-name clients. And the cult of the super-stylist – Rachel Zoe and her TV show, Sex and the City’s Patricia Field – has seen onceunknown wardrobe mistresses become household names.

Now, though, a new breed of A-list primpers have joined their ranks – step forward the celebrity tattooist. You may not have heard of Louis Molloy, but you will have seen his work. The tattoo artist is responsible for the majority of David Beckham’s body art. Molloy began his tattooing career in the Seventies, when it was a very different business than it is today.

Once the preserve of sailors, criminals and outsiders, tattoos are now so common one even adorns the ankle of the Prime Minister’s wife. And just as getting a tattoo no longer raises eyebrows, neither does choosing a career as a tattoo artist. Molloy has been one of the biggest names in British tattooing for some time. When Beckham unveiled the whopping guardian angel tattoo on his back just over a decade ago, Molloy found his artwork on the front page of almost every national newspaper.

“It was a bit scary to be honest,” recalls Molloy. “The problem with a lot of press, especially the tabloids, is that they write what they want to write. The word that kept cropping up was ‘outraged’; that people were outraged at this tattoo, as if they were rioting in the street. It’s absolutely rubbish but they were just trying to stir people up. You could argue that any PR is good PR, which to an extent it is, but sometimes there’s a negative side to it aswell.” Having such a famous ambassador for his work has meant that Molloy is so popular that he now boasts a sixmonth waiting list. In fact, I can hear the needle whirring in the background while I’m onthe phone to him. Yes, he’s so busy that he’s forced to brand someone as we chat. Molloy is under no illusions as to why he is so in demand, and realises that people want a tattoo by the guy who did the Beckhams. “It’s like an endorsement, isn’t it?” offers Molloy.

It seems we are so influenced by celebrity these days that we not only want the same haircut or handbag as someone we admire, we also want their tattoo artist. When casting London Ink, a reality television show set in a London tattoo studio, the producers knew they had to have Molloy on board. “He’s very passionate about the artwork and clear about why he loves doing it,” explains Victoria Noble, the executive producer. “And if you’re putting a studio together, you want people to be recognisable as well as having recognisable work and he’s worked with so many footballers and rock stars.”

Noble also hopes that the programme made the world of tattooing more accessible to those who may have previously been intimidated by it. “I hope it showed tattoo parlours in a different light. I like to think of the London Ink tattoo studio as a very friendly place to be.” Molloy’s appearance on the show has led to numerous business offers from some unlikely sources, including Marks and Spencer, that staple of British middle class life. This May he will also launch Lou Molloy menswear, a range of streetwear which feature his original designs.

One T-shirt inevitably sports a familiar winged angel figure on the front. London Inkwas a spin-off of the hugely popular Miami Ink and LA Ink, which have been responsible for unleashing some of the biggest names in tattooing on the world. Having appeared in the original Miami version of the show, Kat Von D was offered LA Ink as her own vehicle and is now one of the most successful tattooists to cross over into the mainstream. Spurred on, no doubt, by being engaged to Sandra Bullock’s exhusband Jesse James, Von D has appeared in music videos, launched a make-up line and released a selection of fragrances. Her book High Voltage Tattoo even made it on to the New York Times bestseller list. It’s also not uncommon for a wellknown tattooist’s designs to be in demand for other products.

Having stamped much of the so-called Primrose Hill set, including Kate Moss and Jude Law, and gaining a two-year waiting list as a result, Saira Hunjan found that doors opened for her. “Because it’s such a small circle of people they just told each other about me,” says Hunjan. “A lot of people look up to them so I guess they like to go by their recommendation.” Hunjan was asked to design a range of T-shirts for the now defunct Luella label and she is currently branching out into silk scarves and home accessories. “I’m inspired by art from Mexico and India, religious art, goddesses and gypsy art. The stuff I’m designing is based on the imagery I like.”

As tattoos become more ubiquitous, we’re set to see even more of the tattooistas- celebrity. In the future, some tattoo artists will be revered in the same way as big name hairdressers are. And one thing’s for sure, tattoos have been embraced by the mainstream – although not every tattooist is convinced that’s a good thing. “It’s a bit of a two-edged sword,” Molloy points out. “Because if something is made extremely popular then there could come a time when it becomes very unpopular. With every up, there’s always the risk of a down.”

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