After getting my new tattoo (http://bit.ly/2uuXER8) at the female owned and operated tattoo studio Velvet underground, I sat down with owner Roxy Velvet to pick her brain about setting up her studio and what lead up to opening it.
What inspired you to be a tattoo artist? How did you end up doing it? What did you do before?
“I was a showgirl before, full time aerial performer and fetish performer and burlesque superstar, and I really loved drawing. I was loving what I was doing but I was getting a little tired of all the parties I had to go to and was dying to do some drawing and I had some friends who were like ‘you should be a tattoo artist’. I was like I can’t do that its way too cool. Then one of my friends who owns a shop, after a party he just put a stencil on his arm and set up a machine and went ‘go on just do it’. So I just did it, it was terrifying, but as soon as I did it I was well on my way, it was life changing. So after that it was life changing and I just pretty much dropped everything I was doing and ran after that ambition instead. So I sold all my possessions and moved to Thailand and did my apprenticeship there, then came back to London. That all started in 2011.”
Why did you decide to open a shop with all female artists?
“It was just an idea I had a while ago, randomly one day, and I can’t even remember why. I just thought wouldn’t it be great if we had a shop full of hot girls. And it was kind of a joke, then my business partner came to me about opening this place and he said what about opening with all girls and I said that’s a brilliant idea. I thought it was an interesting idea just to see what would happen, I like the way girls communicate with each other and collaborate with each other. I was hoping there would be less bitching and less of the macho bullshit basically. A lot of my clients are women who have never had tattoos before, some of them are in their 40’s and have just decided to get a massive tattoo, and I think that’s interesting. So I wanted to set up a place where people who might be put off by the male macho thing can come and hang out with us lovely ladies.”
How did you choose your team?
“Well they chose me most of them, Vivi and Emily came from another shop I worked at so it was just obvious to bring them, it was just a given that they would work with me. Lexy has been my friend for many many years and she gave herself a job and I was very grateful for, the whole place would disintegrate without her. Karen I put out an advert for, she turned up. I interviewed her in a bar and just instantly liked her. Bonnie the apprentice came from another shop I was working at while I was setting this place up, so I stole her. Meg was sent to me the other day by somebody. We didn’t really need another apprentice but then I had a look at her work and I went ‘yeah we do, yeah we do!’. She has been here about a week, but it feels like she has been here forever. Charlotte sort of came with the building somehow, she approached the barbers beforehand and the day I arrived the barber said this girl called Charlotte wants a job.”
What do you think makes Velvet Underground Tattoo different from other studios?
“Well were all girls for a start, it’s also super hygienic, we have a four star hygiene rating. We are part of this hygiene rating scheme, voluntarily, and we have a four out of four. I don’t know why they don’t have a five. That’s really important to us, to keep it super clean and maintain the highest standards with everything we do. We have the nicest inks, the nicest needles, the nicest everything. We don’t try to cut corners or save money when it comes to customer comfort and safety. I’d also like to think it’s a bit less intimidating, and it doesn’t have the typical tattoo shop vibe with lots of metal and dark corners and scary vibes. And we’re really, really nice and quite collaborative. We listen and give clients what they want.”
What is your favourite style of Tattoo?
“Me, well I like doing really loads of colour, super colourful, and I also love doing black work, so thus far it’s always been a bit of an issue as its two completely different styles. But I’m trying to bring them together and I’m trying to find ways to do that. I’m trying to bring really fine detailed black work and really bold colours together in a way that works on the skin.”
Have you found any struggles working in a male dominated industry?
“Yeah I mean, it’s tough, apprenticeships are tough. In Thailand I worked in a shop full of Thai men, I was lucky that my boss’ wife was English. She did a lot of work for me, explaining and interpreting things that otherwise would never have got explained or translated. They were really lovely to me. I don’t know about struggles but I have experienced a bit of ego.”
Who are your idols, both in the tattoo world and outside it?
“I don’t really have idols, I appreciate different things about different people, but I’m not the type of person to have them. Anyone who’s happy doing what there doing and making a success of it are an idol to me but without an ego.”
By Rodney Williamson
Velvet Underground Tattoo
63 Hanbury Street,
London E1 5JP