Laura Satana was born badass. Growing up in the Paris suburbs (think projects, not picket fences) the 31-year-old picked up her first tattoo machine at 15. The setup, a homemade scratcher piece, was a gift from gypsies she often watched tattoo her young friends, sometimes using Satana’s own drawings. With machine in hand, the teenage tattooist opened up shop in her parents’ bedroom doing what she calls “prison-style tattoos.” Her first tattoo: three dots on her own hand, the cholo markings of Mi Vida Loca. “This rules my whole life,” she says. “If your life is crazy, you deserve this tattoo.”
Today, the teen from the projects is an internationally renowned artist. Her tattoo work adorns the bodies of high-profile rappers, her paintings show in galleries across Europe, her illustrations grace the covers of magazines and CDs, and her designs can be found on everything from laptop decals to cigarette cases. Satana’s latest project: designing new Nike Air Force kicks, which were set to drop in November, in collaboration with French hip hop phenomenon Booba, a friend and tattoo client.
But it’s Satana’s tattoo work at her studio, Exxxotic Tattoos, that consumes most of her time these days. The shop’s crew includes Patrick, who does black work, and Olivier, who specializes in Americana and Japanese styles. Exxxotic is set away from the tourist bustle in central Paris and closer to the city’s border—”close to the people,” she says—and has a warm, laid back vibe. Clientele come for the way Satana can make Los Angeles fine-line tattoos flow in the vein of the legendary Jack Rudy (one of her greatest influences), or how she rocks Americana (crediting Marcus Kuhn for guiding her on strong lines and bold color). Another influence is Tin-Tin, whose tattoo work was some of the first to be viewed as fine art in Europe and around the world.
Satana’s own signature style, developed professionally over the last 11 years, is a hard-edged graphic illustration, often depicting her favorite subject: hot, kick-ass women. “Women are the most beautiful subject ever,” she explains. “I like putting a bit of poetry in my life, and women are a good way to do that.” The women are not safe, classic pin-ups; they’re cheesecake, but with a razor blade inside. “You can be beautiful and tough at the same time. I love this duality and love to represent it in my art.”
What Satana doesn’t love is women coming into her studio and asking for “feminine tattoos.” She says, “When I ask these girls what a feminine tattoo is, they say, ‘I don’t want skull heads and stuff like that.’ But I think a skull can definitely be feminine. Femininity is not the design but the way you wear it.” She cautions, though, against getting tattoos simply to be badass. “You shouldn’t get tattooed to look tough. You get tattooed because you need it. It’s part of your life. Life reveals your tattoos to you through experience, but you were born with them.”