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Elle Decor Italia

What about designer tattoos?

3 designers draw a tattoo for us and tell us the story of their own tattoos


Tattoos are not just drawings. The tattoo artist is like a confessor. He writes the story of a man on his body”. This is what a teacher once told young Nicolai Lilin in the autobiographic novel Siberian Education, later turned into a cult movie by Gabriele Salvatores. It’s a story about minorities, extreme conditions and…tattoos. It was the time when ink on skin was mainstream; it was connected to Yakuza, underground movements, bikers and criminals. Today, Lilin is about to open a big tattoo shop a few steps from Milan’s Duomo, Pietro Sedda tattooed Fritz Hansen’s most iconic chairs and artists are increasingly using a language that lost its cryptic symbolism (at least partially) once reserved to a small circle and now directed at a wider public.


If a lot of rebellious symbols (tribal laws, eastern signs) have now turned into conformism symbols, this change brought to a graphic and aesthetic study of shapes that lightened weights and tones, developed new techniques and harmonised proportions. It also attracted the attention of several designers.

This is why we asked three of them to tell us the story of their tattoos and to draw one for us.


Serena Confalonieri, Modulor

Serena Confalonier’s work is a chromatic balance that takes inspiration from tribal compositions and drawings, lightened by pastel nuances. Be it the wall of a building, a mirror, thick lines or fringes, is geometry that moves her surfaces. Including the fingers of her right hand where she has two little tattoos. “Yes, I designed them” she tells us. “They were conceived and inked in a very short time…I’ve wanted to have flowers tattooed on me for a long time. I wanted them in a part of my body that was not too visible in order not to get tired of them. When I finally decided to get them, I did the exact opposite: I got them on one of the most visible parts, my hands. And although they are right there in from of me, I often forget about them. While designing the tattoo for Elledecor.it, I thought about a modular geometric composition to decompose, repeat, combine (this is where the name Modulor comes from). Colours (usually used to fill in spaces) become the main element and are alternated in different compositions. The drawing is inspired by Anni Albers’ fabrics”. 


Studio Job

This old school tattoo’s style is the outcome of the work of Belgian-Dutch duo Studio Job, who regularly undermine design standards. To talk about their tattoos, one would need an entire article, but what’s sure is that their style is somewhere in between cartoons, baroque and mass imaginary, which is exactly what made them famous worldwide.

“According to what we know so far, only three people in the world have a tattoo from Studio Job. If there are more, we’d be happy to know. For Christmas 2016, Nynke designed a tattoo elaborating an iconography from our precious archive” explains Job Smeets. 

Photo: Davide Cerati

Elena Salmistraro

In Elena Salmistrato’s work too, tattoos and design are intertwined. On her skin, there is the same fantastic imaginary and accurate design of her objects, where she always plays with carvings and elevations, somewhere between sculpture and industrial production.

“Tattoos are one of my greatest passions. I love the idea of being able to print memories and symbols on my skin, enriching my body with what I believe is true art. I still remember my first tattoo, some stars on my foot. I was too young to get a tattoo without my parents’ approval so I bought everything I needed (from the machine to the ink) to tattoo myself. Clearly, the tattoo was influenced by the situation as I had to choose something simple and impactful: stars. Since then, my experiences as a tattoo artist were not many and not worth mentioning (apart from a small ace of spades on my husband’s arm), but I still keep the equipment.

The second tattoo was “Alla” on my wrist. It’s my nickname; all the people who met me at high school or at university call me Alla. On the same day, I also got the cherry blossoms in oriental style (sakura) on my shoulder. I was still quite young and that choice was due to current fashion. I honestly do not know whether I would get the same design today but I am certainly not regretting them because, as I said earlier, every tattoo is not just ink on your skin, is a memory, a moment we are tied to. Today, in retrospect and aware of the meaning of these flowers (uncertainty of life and of all things) I like to think that they symbolise my rebirth, the step from youth to adulthood, from Alla to Elena. 

The pin-up and the sceptre came later, with more awareness. For sure, I was already clear on the fact that every tattoo artist is an artist in its own right and he/she needs to be respected as such. Therefore, I wanted the object and the style to be decided together by me and by her (in this case a close friend), not to distort my request nor her art.

I wanted to get a pin-up as it is a symbol of femininity and rebellion at the same time. Cecilia Granata did an amazing job in understanding what I had in mind and in translating it first on paper and then on my skin. She also added “Stay Gold” below it, a sort of recommendation to me, which I particularly like. The sceptre, instead, is a childhood dream. As a kid, I used to dream about having a magic wand, just like heroes in cartoons, and even with this, Cecilia perfectly managed to make this dream come true.

The drawing I made for you was initially conceived for my husband’s chest but he changes his mind too often and it was never inked. The original version was a man with a tiger-like headgear, like the chief of a tribe or a wrestler. In this case, I wanted to make it more feminine so I changed it to a warrior-queen, perfect for a shoulder or a chest, if you want to be extreme.

The meaning I associate it with is very simple: I believe one needs to learn how to be a “woman” and a “warrior” in order to be a “queen”. 

by Carlotta Marelli / 5 September 2017


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