HONG KONG — His designs can be seen on top models Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner, on Instagram darlings like Chiara Ferragni as well as pop stars Ellie Goulding and Harry Styles. But to wear one of his coveted creations, first you’ll have to shave.
Of course, that’s because Dr. Woo (real name Brian Woo) is a tattoo artist — the most in-demand one too, according to some.
Unlike most ink masters, he’s built up a strong fashion fandom. Once the face of a Levi’s campaign, he’s also created products in collaboration with French eyewear brand Thierry Lasry and Beltology. Continuing that chic streak, Hong Kong’s Landmark mall tapped him last week to do a pop-up showcasing his tattoo designs and fashion picks.
His L.A. swagger and former life as a premium denim buyer may have helped connect him to the fashion set but when asked to explain his mounting popularity, Woo said that tattoos are actually a natural extension of the desire to have customized fashion — “once you’ve gotten every shoe and bag or jacket that you can.”
“You can buy limited-edition shoes but at least three people have it, you know what I mean? This is completely custom, completely your own,” Woo said during a phone interview.
It also didn’t hurt that Woo’s tattoo designs are subtle, featuring featherlike, clean lines. Circles are a signature of his but they are, in any case, a world away from the kind of ink that’s sometimes referred to as job interview breakers.
It comes as a mild surprise (even to him) that he’s in Hong Kong on behalf of the grand dame of the city’s shopping malls. It’s a place catering to the type of man who would fuss over the number of folds in his tie while his Hermès Birkin-toting wife goes for tea. Quite a different crowd compared to those who turned out for last Thursday’s Landmark event, where Woo tattooed a select few including Taiwanese actor Sunny Wang.
To Woo though, the two aren’t necessarily incongruous. Tattoos can be gentlemanly, he said. “The guy who taught me, Mark Mahoney, he is one of my biggest style influences…He looks 110% every time. He’s not big earrings and tattoos all over the face and torn-up jeans. He’s very dapper. When he walks by you in a room, people are like ‘Whoa, who is that?'”
Or at least, it’s his goal to change tattooing’s troubled youth impression, especially in Asia, a more conservative part of the world. It’s significantly harder in Japan, where tattoos are so closely associated with the fearsome yakuza that people sporting ink are still overwhelmingly not allowed in the country’s saunas. Elsewhere around the region, there’s no such direct link but tattoos are slower on the uptake than in the west.
But when you consider the luxury consumer, who is much younger in China than in the west, the partnership starts to make more sense. According to consulting firm Roland Berger, 60 percent of luxury consumers in China are between 20 to 39 years old, whereas only 38 percent in Europe.
Tattoos have also become so mainstream the world over that Woo has now started telling people unironically not to get them. “If you go in your average room or bar, someone has a tattoo some way, shape or form and I meet people who have none. I always tell them, ‘You shouldn’t get them.’ I got my first tattoo when I was 14. Back then, quote unquote, you’re the coolest kid in the room. Now the person without one is a rebellious one and the nonconformist.”
While Woo is still a little uncomfortable with the hype surrounding him — he labels some of the tattoo artists in which he’s mentioned in the same breath as “fluff” — he is leveraging the attention to launch his own studio. “My home has been [Shamrock Social Club tattoo shop] but as I’ve grown a little bit, this will be a jumping point with my own branding and a temple to what I do,” he said.
Woo said that there are also upcoming, yet undisclosed brand alliances and fashion products. Further out on the horizon he hopes to be able to create an entire lifestyle brand. “Creating something that goes beyond just physical ink on skin but the whole lifestyle,” he said.