I grew up watching classic films set in this city...Breathless, Gigi, Guy Purr-ee, La Haine, Funny Face...and as I became older, newer films captured my imagination even further...Amalie, Midnight in Paris, Moulin Rouge, Before Sunrise, and French Kiss. It’s hard to deny the power France has; it’s glory spans from some of the greatest artists of all time, to vast lands covered in the vines of grapes fit for the finest champagne. So, it’s not a surprise that the tattooists here create pieces that are special. Paris tattoo studios capture something unique; blending the foundations of art appreciation steeped in French culture with the progressive stylings of contemporary creatives, Parisian tattoo artists are part of an evolution in the tattoo industry towards the highest form of pure expression.
In this guide to the tattoo studios and tattooists of Paris, France, I’ll go through some of the incredible artists of note, as well as some of the marvelous things that this city has to offer. Good food, great wine, galleries, and even day trips you can take that will provide a glimpse into France that is unforgettable.
LES MAUX BLEUS
My first visit was to private tattoo studio Les Maux Bleus, in the 3rd arrondissement a bit north of Marais. The charm of this area is that it is less filled with typical tourist attractions. Modern art galleries, and other forms of high culture, are what fills these labyrinthine streets and the Centre Pompidou is only a ten minute walk away. Coming to this Paris tattoo studio, you are met with a large blue door that leads to a small courtyard, and the gorgeous glass windows of Les Maux Bleus. I was fortunate to meet with Sixo, co-owner of the studio along with Carlo Amen. Immediately the location of this shop is perfect: the tattooists who work here are more modern masters than replicators of the Traditional tattoo art form. “Carlo and I, we met seven years before, and at this point we were designers, illustrators, and we were just doing tattooing for fun. We didn’t want to make money from it; we just wanted to travel and meet people. Finally, we started to be well-known in Paris, and different places, so we started a studio.”
What’s truly significant about Les Maux Bleus, to me, is that they are part of this incredible revolution in tattooing that has been progressing for the last few years. Rather than continue the tradition of classic tattooing, these artists are drawing inspiration from movements like Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, the Bandes Dessinées tradition, and similar. It’s breathing new life into the industry, and clients are finding tattooists they really resonate with thanks to their specific visual vernacular. Sizo also believes it has to do with authentic identities. “I think now, people say to me, ‘I’m not looking for a style, I’m looking for a personality.’ This is what is different today...We try to have a collection of contemporary tattooists that can be everything...we don’t care, we just want something different with a real personality and concentration. They don’t follow a trend; they do their own stuff.”
He also mentions that he hopes Les Maux Bleus can be for others, what Carlo and himself were missing back when they first embarked on learning tattooing. “We give possibilities to very young tattooists to come and work with us, even if they don’t have many followers...we don’t care. We just want to give the opportunity to express themselves. When I started tattooing, no one wanted to take me as a tattoo apprentice because they thought what I did was just comics. They didn’t see the link between comics and tattoos. It didn’t matter, they wanted me to come back with a “real” style of tattooing. Finally, I just found other people like me.”
Stepping through the black and gold painted doors of L’Encrerie was almost like stepping back into a Victorian opium den, without all the smoke and pillows. Richly, but simply, furnished with lovely antique tables, chairs, and decor, the waiting area of L’Encrerie is comfortable and beguiling. The artists are also very inviting; you can tell that everyone who works here is happy, motivated. The vibe was actually filled with the buzz of bliss and tattoo machines. The tattoo artists, like Yokai Hermit, working at L’Encrerie are vastly different in styles, backgrounds, and aesthetic tastes, but they’re clearly working together like family. They also throw events, and have a deep connection to music. Hip Hop is a driving force behind the shop philosophy and mission, which sets it apart from many of the studios in Paris.
I spoke with Belles, one of the artists, whose style is inspired by many of the blackwork tattooers in Berlin and Moscow, as well as old engravings, etchings, and esoteric images. “It was very natural to tattoo, and to come here, L’Encrerie. It was just my destiny, you know? I think the special aspect of this shop is we’re all friends, real friends. We go on holidays together, we share parties together, just good moments...and I think it’s the main aspect of this shop. That’s why you see it, you feel it, in the shop. We are very relaxed and our job is not a job; it’s just to spend the time and draw. Plus, the shop is very particular, because we don’t do Traditional. Here, we do different stuff.”
Although France has such a history of fine arts culture, it has always felt to me that the French don’t really see tattooing as a part of that yet. I had old ladies click their tongues at me, or sneer, people in subways would stare, or point. It feels like how it was to be heavily tattooed in the US ten years ago. So, I asked Belles about his take on why being tattooed here isn’t as accepted as it is in other parts of the world, including Europe. “Its an old country, so it’s hard to change the mind of the people. But I think tattooing has a good destiny in France because right now we’re making history, because we don’t really have a lot of it. Some, like Tin Tin, they brought the tattoo culture here to France, but it’s still young. It’s not like New York or London. So we just have to build it, and I think it’s interesting to be a part of it. The people, they have to change their minds, and that’s why we have to talk to them, and represent a different outlook, show them how it can be.”
An incredibly sweet person, with a tattoo style to match, Katie Mcpayne is a Black, queer, non-binary tattooer who focuses on creating a safe space for everyone. The tattoos Katie creates are illustrative, and full of whimsy, body positivity and love. In our interview, Katie talked a lot about how feeling represented and visible within the industry is really important, and the tattoos created by Katie on other peoples bodies try to embrace that, support it, as much as possible. “in France the Black queer tattoo scene is quasi non existent so it feels a bit lonely, and I know really few non binary queer tattoo artist. I feel much more welcomed and represented in the states, and it feels good because I feel less lonely over there. I wish and I feel confident that with time, change will come in France. We are just a bit slow about those things I guess..... And big work has been done about this topic and it feels good...I feel so thankful that my work can speak to all those people and that they trust me enough, to do something permanent on their bodies. I love get to know them and they tell me stories (theirs or friends ), and sometimes we get some complicite moments, by joking around or just having good conversations about anything.”
MIKAEL DE POISSY
A Tattoodo Ambassador, a collector of archival tattoo history, and a publisher of Tatouage Magazine, Mikael De Poissy specializes in stained glass tattoos. One of the incredible aspects of his artwork is that many of them do seem to glow as if illuminated by light; it’s like Mikael somehow managed to capture beams of sun rays peeking through the pieces of glass when it took inspiration from the windows of ancient cathedrals. He also does Medieval inspired works, and the historical undertones of his tattoos truly fit with the grand wealth of culture here in this city. It’s no wonder that he gleans inspiration from the museums, architecture, sculptures, fine art collections, and more that make up much of Paris, and France at large.
Although I met him at the London Tattoo Convention where we filmed a Tattoodo Session with him, it’s not out yet so be on the lookout for that, I had to mention Lewis, a Paris-based tattooist, because his approach to tattooing is so unique. During our interview he spoke about how his tattoos are entrenched in the modern arts movement of Kinetic Art pioneered by the likes of Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely. Pieces created within that sphere of artistic philosophy used sculptures, paintings, and more, to imbue movement. The effect of motion was an entirely new way to present creations at the time, and Lewis has renewed it again through tattooing. Viewing his pieces is often like looking at an optical illusion; not only does the body actually move, but even in stillness, the ink seems to swirl and twist. Lewis is also mentioned that through his art, he’s embraced mindfulness, a technique to be fully present within the moment, and his tattoos are often a form of working meditation: applying thousands of tiny dots to create a massive bodysuit.
TIN TIN TATOUAGES
Tin Tin Tatouages has been around since 1999 and it’s a mainstay of the Parisian tattoo community. Tin Tin himself has been a tattooer for decades, and conceived Mondial du Tatouage, a highly respected annual tattoo convention. His two story Paris tattoo shop is filled with artists who do everything from Japanese, to die hard Traditional, Realism, and even dark art illustrations. Like most classic shops, here you can find a diverse skill set ready to create any custom piece you could imagine. Tin Tin Tatouages is also full of artworks by famed tattooists, a collection that I’m guessing has been amassed even before it opened in the 90’s. Jondix posters, vintage flash, Claudia de Sabe prints, and even a giant painting by Mike Dorsey that hangs on a wall on the second floor.
Walk ins are welcome, as are custom projects. Tin Tin is actually in a perfect spot; they get a lot of traffic from the tourist trade. The shop is located in the 9th arrondissement, and Theo Van Gogh, Vincent’s older brother, happened to live right around the corner about 100 years ago. The studio is also about a 15 minute walk to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, an ancient Roman Catholic church that offers stunning views of the city from it’s perch on top of a hill. Once you’re finished getting a tattoo from one of the artists working at Tin Tin, I suggest a walk around the area.
I actually met Laura at Tin Tin Tatouages, when she still worked there, but she has since opened up her own tattoo studio in Paris, La Panthere Bleue. She mostly does black and grey realism tattoos, but can also do pieces like vivid Japanese peonies. I really appreciated how open and honest she was, and how kind. Surrounded by the Tin Tin’s collection of art, she spoke about how tattooing transformed her life, not only as a job but also emotionally. “In my case, I know I feel better with tattoos, than without...I love tattoos...before I wasn’t feeling very good in my body. I’ve always been a bit fat, and since I was a kid, I thought that that was why people stared at me. Now, maybe, they won’t see my body anymore but the art and I don’t feel bad anymore.” It’s something, perhaps, many people have found: that with their tattoos, they feel more like themselves, empowered by artistic armor.
She also mirrored my sentiments about being tattooed in Paris, which often feels extremely alienating despite the cities celebration of all things artistic. “The French culture doesn't take a lot of risks...for example, I travel a lot and in New York cops were tattooed ten years ago, but in France, they’ve only been allowed to be tattooed since two years ago. And most of their jobs still ask them not to...French people, they’ve been raised to believe that tattooed people are only marginalized communities or bad people, not good people. And for women, it’s even worse. Walking in the street, even in the street, you still will have a lot of looking at you, or saying mean things behind your back. It’s rude, it’s disrespectful.” It’s really good for travelers to know this aspect of Paris tattoo culture because, although it’s slowly changing, thanks to the efforts of awesome artists like Lauren, the city still has far to go when it comes to old stereotypes.
RIP CHEZ MÉMÉ BUT HELLO BISOU BISOU!
As always, when I travel somewhere, I already know who I want to get tattooed by. Traveling, supporting artists, and getting tattooed is probably my absolute favorite thing in the world, and I’m extremely fortunate to have a job that so wonderfully encourages that. So, I set up an appointment with Rion of Chez Mémé as soon as I knew I would be in Paris again. Her work is incredible; like vintage cartoons combined with a Traditional approach, and always a little bit weird or pervy, her pieces always make me smile. I got extremely lucky because it turned out that I was Rion’s last tattoo appointment in Paris before she moved to Barcelona for good. She gave me a very cute Gudetama onigiri that I absolutely adore.
And although Chez Mémé has now closed its doors, some of the artists simply moved on to Bisous Bisous, like Max Newtown. The new studio is still in Paris and includes some of my favorite tattooists like Ani des Aubes and Ana Tattooer.
MYSTERY TATTOO CLUB
Mystery Tattoo Club is actually the first tattoo studio in Paris, France that I ever visited. On my first trip, in 2012 or so, I had searched for a shop that fit my aesthetics which was difficult then because things like Tattoodo just didn't exist. Thankfully, I found this studio, which is quite close to Gare du Nord, a hub for train travel to other European cities. Back then I was more interested in drawing my own tattoos, but Justin, the artist who tattooed me, had no problem with that. I remember the entire experience as being really positive; the shop manager was sweet, the studio had a relaxed vibe, and the tattooists were all clearly serious about their work, like Easy Sacha who does beautiful Japanese pieces. I still look at the piece Justin tattooed for me with fondness; it’s one of those tattoos that perfectly captures what was going on in my life at that time. It’s part of why people love to travel and get tattooed: it’s a memory made permanent.
OTHER ARTISTS OF NOTE:
Obviously, with a city so full of creative prowess, it’s difficult to choose which tattoo artists and studios I could visit within the limited amount of time I had. There are others like Mike End, who blends illustrative dark art with strains of Chicano and Traditional, as well as Ellepleure, who is known for his bold black graphic arts technique illustrating eyes, snakes, and clean Old English lettering. Eva Edelstein and Patrice Tran focus more on fineline florals and lush depictions of natural life, while Goran Ivic and Guillaume Martins concentrate on black and grey Realism incorporating touches of surrealism as well.
No matter what these artists do, and even if their styles are similar, every tattooist I met, or know of, in Paris, France, has something different about their work. With a city so full of creatives, they each set themselves apart from the rest by doing something that is exclusively their own. This makes it, in some ways, quite easy to find an artist that does work you resonate with. The only thing that really makes it difficult is choosing only one or two while you happen to be in Paris!
COOL STUFF TO DO
Of course, you’d be sort of crazy not to go check out the Eiffel Tower while in Paris, France. It is one of the cities most important icons, along with places like Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur. What I did was book a tour through Viator, one of my favorite websites to find interesting experiences for travelers, to go see the Eiffel Tower. The trip included a lovely boat ride down the Seine, dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant Jules Vern on the second platform of the actual tower following a short tour of the famed building, and then a champagne soaked experience at the Moulin Rouge. I don’t usually engage in tourist traps, but this time I was pretty glad I did.
I also have to mention that if you’re interested in Art Nouveau architecture, Paris is an awesome place to see some gorgeous examples of it. And for those of you who like to be the darker side of France, check out the catacombs. I’ve never seen so many skulls in one place. It isn’t as mind-blowing as the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic, but it’s still certainly creepy. The Louvre should also be on your obvious sightseers list; but it’s smart to get a ticket ahead of time on the site, and to get there early. I also suggest going during the off season so that eager tourists don’t bum you out. I could barely get close enough to the Delacroix in order to enjoy them...and it seemed like most people were viewing the art through their phones or cameras, rather than their own eyes. Such a shame! Make sure to be present...actually be there, and look at the incredible art!
Above are some photos I took at Centre Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo, which is my favorite art museum in Paris. Tattoo artist Luciano Calderon actually painted that giant mural, which is a perfect example of how Palais de Tokyo merges many modern art forms into one of the best in-depth experiential adventures you’ll ever have at a museum. Totally weird, totally surreal; even people who aren’t total art nerds like myself will enjoy a trip here.
I’m not really a fan of tour buses and crowds being corralled like cattle, so I usually rent a car to take myself to those spots that are a bit out of the way. It's one of the best way to really see a city and experience it; a special kind of freedom comes with car keys. On this trip to Paris, I drove from the city to the countryside to visit Monet’s house and garden, Giverny. Last time I was here I also did a group visit to the restaurant Le Moulin de Fourges where an actual little barn kitty stole some of my coq au vin. This time, not being with a large party, I took to Les Bords de Seine which, as the name suggests, rests on land right next to that famed river. A hotel as well as a restaurant, I had some of the best authentic French cuisine here that I’ve ever had. It was truly magical. The foodie haven is also right across the street from La Roche-Guyon, a gargantuan castle that is literally built into the side of a cliff.
Of course, because I can never get enough of French movie history, I also drove an hour from Giverny and La Roche-Guyon to Le Château de la Reine Blanche in Coye-la-Forêt. This small building was a film location for the Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire blockbuster Funny Face. You can rent it out for weddings, or visit the cute restaurant next door. I myself brought a small bottle of champagne, various fruits and andouillette for snacking while I looked over the serene Etang de la Loge lake. Not exactly everyone's idea of perfection, but overlooking those waters I was able to truly appreciate la joie de vivre.