First appeared in The Woolf
Notes from the Unexpected
Profile: Rue de Framboise
Soft lighting, the strains of Céline Dion and a plush couch: all signs point to cake and coffee with a favorite aunt. But once the eyes adjust to the rings, skulls and list of body parts considered fair game, it starts to make sense. This is a full-service piercing and tattoo studio, and it unquestionably belongs to Beatrice.
She still remembers the moment, flicking through an edgy fashion magazine, when she saw body piercing, for real. The kind that caught her breath, touching something deep and ancient, and lifted her out of Thurgau, to the shores of Brighton and into the arms of the few who could pass down the craft – because that’s just how it works. After the hands-on English education, came the return home, piercing after piercing and, in 1997, the opening of the first Rue de Framboise.
If the name does not evoke pricks and pokes behind closed doors, that was the point. Beatrice says, “I just wanted it to sound more artistic, more feminine, more French, even if an English name would have been trendier, because we’re in Switzerland.” Yet for all of the soft touches, body piercing and tattooing were considered back-alley trades. Nearly two decades on, today’s studios are flanked by tapas bars and sneaker shops.
“Many more places do this now,” she explains, “so it almost looks like mass production, but that’s a different mentality. Sometimes people come in and want what they want, right now, for cheap. We can’t work that way because we depend a lot on word of mouth. If we feel something isn’t a good idea, for whatever reason, we say so. The other thing is, we don’t really want our work to look mass produced. I mean, all this…”
With one sweep of her elaborately inked arm, Beatrice encompasses the lot of studs, spikes and barbells, the tattoo operations upstairs and the winged skeleton in the window.
“All this still needs to be a little rock ‘n’ roll, right?”
Niculin, one of the studio’s resident tattooists, has a bit of downtime before his next appointment. A fine arts graduate who long ago turned from oil paints to ink, he is working out the design for a new tattoo.
“Tattooing has existed in every culture in the history of man,” he starts, eyes fixed on the fierce blueprint. “I think the role of tattooing in society today is the shaman. What did you need when you went to the shaman, priestess or guru? You went for healing, change, to express yourself or make something part of you that was missing.”
He pauses mid-stroke, lost in thought or distracted by the thrashing guitar one room over. Matt, another tattooist, has been cranking Earthless while hunched over a man’s nipple. The customer mustered up a pinched smile when Matt invited me in to say hello.
Niculin goes back to his sketch. After a tangent involving Maori warriors and his library of cultural metaphors, he says, “Tattoos are more socially acceptable now, even fashionable. Still, it’s our duty to warn people that, yeah, people will formulate opinions about you based on your tattoos. Even five years ago, if someone wanted a finger tattoo, we’d call it a ‘job stopper.’”
He stops to study his own hands, a swirl of myths and legends. “People think they can walk into any studio and get the same thing, but that’s not the way tattooing works. There are apprenticeships that last two to five years, and you’re done when you’re good enough.”
Aware of the clock, he surges ahead. “Think of the Old Italian Masters. They had to make a hammer by smelting iron, banging two pieces of metal together until one gave, and then using the softer one – and human effort – to finish the hammer. People don’t know how to grind their own pigments anymore, solder their own needles or wrap their own coils. This idea of being able to make the tools to make the tools, of self-sacrifice and sheer human effort: that’s what makes a true master. The relationship between master and apprentice keeps the principles alive. It’s a trade, which is why we don’t look at ourselves as artists, just ‘tattooers’…”
The doorbell rings, time’s up. I wind downstairs to the parlor and peek into the empty piercing room, which could be a doctor’s office but for the large framed photograph. It is hard to miss: a young girl, from somewhere far away, pierced, maybe just. There is no mustered smile for the camera, just the hard, quiet truth of ritual – and the labor behind it.
Three studios, a reputation to uphold and a brain logged with the tales of all those who have come to physically mark a passage, release, second chance or whim: it is no wonder Beatrice admits to feeling tired, at least until we step outside for a picture.
As she gamely poses, feet flat on the cobblestone, I ask what makes her most proud.
“My son,” she fires back, eyes alight, as if the only possible answer is the one that roots her to flesh.