Investing in Body Art
Is the New York tattoo a sensible buy?
When Natalie Hague graduated from college, she wanted a gift that would always remind her of being young. So she spent $800 of her savings on a tattoo.
Now a Japanese koi fish will swim forever up her back.
“I thought about it for a while, and even though I am struggling with money, it seemed like a better present for myself than a pair of shoes that will go out of season next fall,” said Hague, 22.
Recession-era body art “investment” is creating a new generation of tattoo customers, who consider imprinting meaningful art on their bodies a sound buy.
Value-driven clients might shop for tattoos in downtown Manhattan. At a cluster of five tattoo parlors around Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, it’s easy to compare prices and options.
The typical customers are local hipsters and students, but some are European tourists, said Sam Pak, a tattoo artist at Moonlit Studios (95 Macdougal St.).
Hague planned her tattoo for several months. But others ink up on impulse.
Jayson Furman, 19, decided to get small anchor tattoo, for $75, at 2 a.m. one Friday night, while he was hanging out with friends.
“Younger people, especially students like me — but even blue collar workers — aren’t feeling as money-tight as the top businessmen on Wall Street,” noted Furman. “And it’s that group of lower-income or younger people who tend to get tattoos anyways.”
Furman’s tattoo took a little less than an hour to create at Whatever Tattoos (329 Sixth Ave.) Furman didn’t realize that sailor-themed tattoos, especially anchors, are emblems of stability popular among travelers, and those experiencing unsteadiness in their lives. He said he just liked the look of it.
But considering the tough economic times, he likes the symbolism, too.
“People have always considered tattoos to be a form self-expression, and some even think of it as a lifelong personal collection,” said artist Chris Nukong, 31, as he drew a black, oozing heart on a customer’s neck. His rate for the painful two-hour process: $225.
This was his fifth customer of the day. He might perform six or seven ink jobs on a typical day. Nukong said that most of his clients are in their in their twenties, and that many have become “collectors,” with multiple tattoos.
Tattoo fans can also be found at Sacred Tattoos (276 Canal St.) On Valentine’s Day, Paul Gordella, 26, rushed over to get the holiday special: a $60 image of a pink latex condom labeled “thinking of you.” Gordella began collecting tattoos at 15; now tattoos cover more than half of his body.
Lately he’s patronized Jokers Tattoo (175 Bleecker St.), where an artist has spent the past seven months filling in a $5,000 tribal design that will eventually cover his upper back. “I pay in increments per hour, so it doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket,” Gordella said.
Saturdays and nice weather days are usually best for business, said Eav Leahy, 43, owner of West Village Ink (87 Christopher St.) A really good day would be about 10 customers, with each buying a tattoo in the $200 range.
“Winter is usually a slower time for tattoo salons,” Leahy said. “But even in light of the recession, business has not changed from previous years.”
Tattoos endure because they’re selling a Hollywood fantasy of a rock-‘n-roll, carefree lifestyle. But many tattoo parlors around the country are feeling the sting of the recession, because a tattoo is a luxury, not a necessity, said Chris Midkiff, editor of the trade journal Tattoo Artist Magazine.
The best tattoo artists continue to thrive in any climate, though, because they are true talents, with a “dedication to the art and craft of tattooing, and their willingness to forego a party-type lifestyle,” Midkiff explained in an email. “It is their hard work and skill that earns them the respect of their peers and the support of their clientele — even during difficult economic times.”
That yearning to own a beautiful piece of permanent art recently found a repeat customer in Karen Crowder, 31. After two shots of vodka, she was ready for tattoo number five, a small dragon on her ankle.
Said Crowder: “Life is a long journey and each tattoo will forever remind me of a stage in my life.”
Shopping for Tattoos in Downtown New York
Moonlit Studios, 95 Macdougal St., 212-228-5121
Whatever Tattoos, 329 Sixth Ave. 212-229-0687
Sacred Tattoos, 276 Canal St. 212-226-4286
Jokers Tattoo, 175 Bleecker St., no phone listing
West Village Ink, 87 Christopher St. 212-243-3731