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When even CEOS have tatts, skin art really is big business

By Elissa Doherty – Herald Sun

All drawn by hand: Trainee pastry chef Franziska Norman, 30, shows off her work and her ink. Picture: ALEX COPPEL

TATTOOS are now as common in the boardroom as they are on bikies and bogans — inking a ballooning bottom line for the artists.

The explosion in the popularity of tattoos has carved out a $96 million-a-year industry, turning everyone — from CEOs to grandmas — into walking works of art.

And as the number of women being inked catches up to men, the studios are changing their look too.

The whirr of an ink-laden needle is now being heard in trendy shopping strips, brandished by friendly female artists.

It is estimated that as many as 75 per cent of today’s Generation Tattoo (aged 18-30) are no longer a blank canvas.

Franziska Norman, 30, a trainee pastry chef, says her ink is from all over the world and, to her, is both an art collection and souvenirs.

‘ ‘ I got my first tattoo 15 years ago. I definitely think they have become more widely accepted,’’ Ms Norman said.

But the injection of ink into mainstream culture has caused some tattooists to draw a line in the sand and not the body.

Increasingly, artists are saying ‘‘no’’ to young firsttimers swept up i n the celebrity-driven fad for ink on such visible areas such as hands and necks, fearing they’ll regret it later in life.

‘‘It’s way more fashion-driven now, and that does worry me,’’ Chapel Tattoo part-owner Jane Laver said.

‘‘It’s not a fashion, it’s not something you can change every season. People don’t know what they want . . . and that is a concern. And people are more inclined to get big visible work. You have to earn your stripes.

‘‘You’d have to be pretty heavily tattooed for me to do areas like the hands or feet.’’

She credits US reality TV series such as Miami Ink and LA Ink for changing the industry ‘‘almost overnight’’ five years ago.

Dynamic Tattoo’s Trevor McStay said: ‘‘Everyone wants to get tattooed now . . . they want to look cool.’’

But he believes the saturation of tattoos is devaluing the art form.

At least one Melbourne worker has recently lost a job over visible tattoos and is looking at taking the matter further, as employers are increasingly having to write tattoo policies into their dress codes.

An IBISWorld report into the industry found revenue grew by 5.5 per cent a year in the five years to 2011-12.

‘‘The evolution of popular culture has lifted tattooing from underground scenes and criminal associations, and focused on tattoos as a form of art and expression,’’ says its Tattoo Studios in Australia report.

‘‘This has allowed tattoos to permeate many previously inaccessible echelons of society, including corporate management and teaching.’’

But social researcher Mark McCrindle thinks the writing is on the wall for the trend.

‘‘There’s a rise in the regret factor and an increase in the tattoo removal industry,’’ he said.

In the office, a visible tattoo can change your life

The Herald Sun approached community and business leaders for their views on tattoos at work.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle: ‘‘Not visible unless you’re Ruby Rose.’’ Harvey Norman CEO Gerry Harvey:

‘‘In the past few years I have never seen so many tattoos, and it has become acceptable. It’s hard for me to maintain my conservative views.’’ Former premier Jeff Kennett:

‘‘It’s a personal preference. But if the good Lord had meant us to be born with tattoos, they would have been part of his own design.’’

Jon-Michail, CEO  Image Group International:

‘‘If it is visible, it is a serious problem and can be career sabotaging.

‘‘While an individual has the right to self-expression, the company has rights too, and if your image does not fit in with the workplace culture then they will discriminate against you without telling you.’’ Telstra CEO David Thodey:

‘‘Telstra does not have a specific policy on tattoos; however, we trust our staff to make the right decisions.’’ KPMG partner Bernard Salt:

‘‘In the corporate world . . . there are very few visible tattoos . . . If it’s discreet it could be viewed as a form of decoration similar to jewellery.’’ Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace relations director Richard Clancy:

‘‘On a building site it’s not going to be as big an issue. But in a formal white-collar environment, it depends on the industry . . . Where it can present an issue is when it’s on the face, neck or a full sleeve.’’

This story first appeared in the Herald Sun on March 30, 2013

©2013 Herald Sun