NEW YORK—From the earliest man and woman to the present day, tattoos have long been a form of self- expression—and one that has evoked curiosity and interest in the mind of the viewer.
The word “tattoo” is a derivative of the word “tatow,” which means “to write.” How it emerged in the English lexicon is up for debate. One myth gives credit to the explorations of Captain James Cook in Polynesia, who is said to have encountered native people wearing tattoos. Whether it is a legend or history, people have been writing on skin well before then and certainly ever since.
Today, it’s now an art form that is being fully embraced as mainstream. No longer seen as a rebellious act or a reflection of a seedy subculture, tattoos have gone from low brow—bastardized versions of tribal tattoos on the backs of spring breakers—to high-brow exhibitions in fine art galleries around the world.
Born from the bold attitude and 24/7 culture of New York City, W Hotels is continuously striving to disrupt and redefine hospitality as we know it. In that spirit, the hotel brand launched a limited-run salon at its New York properties, enabling its guests to get inked up by notable tattoo artists—some have a one- to four-year waiting list—like Chris Garver, Jack Rudy, Sara Fabel and Tuki Carter.
“While we showcase artists on a quarterly basis, this is the first time that we have a tattoo artist in-house. We’re excited to be connected to these bold, creative talents in a realm that’s a first for us, and to lend support to artists we’re passionate about,” said Tanya Decosta, marketing manager, W New York – Union Square. “By providing exclusive access to these renowned artists, the properties seek to spark guests’ imaginations in what we believe to be a most inventive, exciting and unusual way. With a mission to fuel guests’ lust for life, W ignites an obsessive desire to soak it in, live it up and hit repeat.”
With the wealth of talent on the tattoo scene, how did the W Hotels team select these four artists? Each one embodies a singular aesthetic that is well-aligned with their partner hotel, explained Decosta.
Tuki Carter, known for his portraiture work, held court at the W New York in early June. Chris Garver, star of TLC’s reality show Miami Ink and who specializes in Japanese and gray-and-black tattooing, did a stint at W New York – Union Square. For a week at the W New York – Downtown, Finnish tattoo artist Sara Fabel shared her expertise in black ink with a focus on illustrating organic themes mixed with symbolism and mathematical elements. And last, but not least, Jack Rudy, widely considered one of the world’s top tattoo artists, will close out the series at W’s flagship property, starting on Sept. 4.
For Fabel, working with W Hotels was an opportunity to be a part of something fresh and unique. “I was extremely excited when I first got approached by W Hotels. I had never heard of anything like this being done with any other hotels before,” she said.
While creativity may come and go, Fabel said that inspiration comes from her client base. It helps that the clients are open in their tattoo requests, giving an idea with only a few keywords such as “feminine,” “floral” or “anatomy” and, from there, Fabel will begin her process by searching images and stimuli for her designs.
“Beauty and fleeting ‘aha’ moments come when you least expect them. I am very lucky to have a unique client base, and as cheesy as it might sound, I do find a lot of my clients to be very inspirational,” she said. “I have a long wait list for future clients, which allows me to sit on designs for days—sometimes weeks or months—making sure that the design is something I would have fun doing and the client would appreciate.”
In working with clients at W New York – Downtown, she eschewed the traditional approach to the process of booking and tattooing clients. Fabel implemented a set fee per day and strict booking forms, which only allowed clients to tell her one to three things they liked and didn’t like. There were no reference photos, no long explanations, only a loose concept.
“As a second option, clients were able to choose from pre-drawn designs specially drawn for the W trip. So there weren’t weird, funny or odd requests flooding in that much,” she said. “As a majority of my clients are older professionals—lawyers, doctors, military, law enforcement and researchers—I tend to get very mature-minded requests along with some amazing, beyond-inspiring conversations while tattooing.”
As an artist whose ideas come alive on skin, Fabel has a distinct view of the tattoo scene and naysayers who have said her style of artwork is diluting an industry “meant to be a thing for the rebels and outcasts” because it opens the doors for mainstream appreciation.
“The world of tattooing is changing; it has always changed. Tattooing didn’t begin with Sailor Jerry, nor will it end with the outcasts and dingy side-alley parlors,” she said. “What I have learned is that tattooing and body modifications, in general, are a powerful tool to find your own potential and strengths. To me, being tattooed was a way to survive from years of bullying. It was a way to claim ownership of my own body. This is something that plays a significant role in a lot of the work I do with clients—elements of healing and overcoming. A mark on one’s body is to signify ‘This is me and you can’t take this away from me.’” HB