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VM inspiration: Into You Tattoo makes the tattoo parlour wonderful

Creating unique interior retail spaces for the services industry usually tends to blandness. But an exception might be the tattoo industry, which is enjoying a prolonged boom at present.

Into You Tattoo, based in Clerkenwell and Brighton, is a perfect example. Owner and tattoo artist Alex Binnie’s route into tattooing was through performance art, and his interests are reflected on the walls of the three sections of the London store.

The first room is a waiting room, shop, and art gallery; the second is a resting space filled with tattoo-related images; and the third the work-space for the tattoo artists.

Located in St. John Street – an area popular with design agencies - the store has been a tattoo parlour since 1993. At that point there were only two other tattoo practitioners in the north and east London area. Today there are more than ten tattoo parlours in the area, but the moment when Into You Tattoo opens its church pew immediately fills with customers awaiting appointments.

It is interesting that we use the word ‘parlour’ to describe a service location: dentists have a surgery, hairdressers a salon, and beauty therapists a spa.

Like this store, originally adjacent to a squat before Clerkenwell’s rise to designer-cool, the tattoo has a chequered history. From being a fashionable ‘must-have’ in the 1870s, when it was adopted by royalty, to its subsequent decline as the mark of an outsider from the forces, the Merchant Navy, or the criminal class, today tattooing has gained general acceptance as a form of body decoration.

Binnie, much tattooed himself, is an excellent example of this move from outsider to insider. Note the ephemera on the wall behind him, with compelling graphic silhouettes of planes appropriately crying blood.

An elaborately-carved scarlet screen divides the front of the store from the resting space, very reminiscent of the scroll patterns employed by Maori tattoo artists. The colour is a reminder that the process pierces the skin and draws blood.

The resting space is adorned with tattoo-related art and photographs. Again, red walls suggest both the gun decks of ships, and the dangerously exciting interiors of clubs and bars.

The walls feature strong colours and long, glass-fronted lit-cabinets securely display a collection of jewellery and piercings. Tattoos, like piercings, are rites of passage, amulets, skin art, and are referred to as pieces or work, in the same way that artists refer to their work.

Tattooing has its own language of meaning. While hearts might be obvious, some language is more a little more covert.

Each of the five workspaces in the third room typifies the tendency of humans to create organised collections of things that interest them over time: books, images of copyrighted tattooing patterns (these are known as flash patterns and often used to decorate tattoo parlours); images from Polynesia which has a long tradition of tattooing; the Buddhist ohm and swastika (peace and cohesion) symbols, along with the tools of the trade including good lighting and cling film with which to wrap the wounded skin.

Redolent of the seaside, the pavement sign advertises the store effectively in a long parade of small shops.

Among the tattoo ephemera is a carved sign, commemorating the origin of the store. The fresh flowers placed in front of it suggest something of a shrine, appropriate for a tattoo parlour where to be tattooed is might be said to engage in a ritualized process.

Taking a look at a tattoo parlour, with a tradition based in vernacular design rather than modernism, is an exercise in self-expression and the very opposite of the corporate retail brands that we have seen rolled out across the globe. Into You Tattoo, like its service, enshrines a wonderful celebration of difference. Long may that continue.