Top row, from left: Horizakura, Kris Magnotti, Brad Stevens, Damion Ross.
Middle row, from left: Evan McKnight, Simone Brochard, Mari Garcia, Bart Bingham.
Bottom row, from left: Catherine Berriman, James Motz, Josh Harris, Lori Leven, Virginia Elwood, J. Colby Smith, Yoni Zilbe
47 Second Ave.
New York, NY
Lori Leven is not afraid to make waves for the sake of art. Though tattooing was illegal in New York City in 1996, that didn’t stop Leven from opening NY Adorned. Away from prying eyes, tattooers would sling ink behind concealed partitions while a jewelry shop (which would offshoot into a boutique named Love, Adorned in 2010) resided in the front. Ironically, cops were regular customers. “It was a health department ordinance and not their jurisdiction,” Leven says of the officers, whose yearning for fresh ink would allow them to look the other way.
Leven says she opened a tattoo shop out of frustration with the New York tattoo scene. In 1993, she moved to New York City from Los Angeles, where she had served as an assistant at Tattoo Mania, and was disappointed by the lack of artistic choices on the East Coast. “California was such a hotbed of tattoo talent, and although it was illegal in New York, I just felt that the time was right to show New York the possibilities in tattooing,” she says. She first started a tattoo collective, the original East Side Ink, with tattooer Sean Vasquez. “By the time I opened NY Adorned, New York actually started to know tattooing as art,” she says. And Leven became key talent curator.
“Lori always sees what’s happening before the rest and handpicks people that will make trends, not just regurgitate the same old thing,” says Adorned artist Damion Ross.
“She has an uncanny ability to see what and who will be the next big thing,” adds Adorned artist Virginia Elwood.
Because of Leven’s insistence on picking the best artists possible, Adorned remains a force—not just a forerunner—in the industry, even after 16 years. With seven full-time tattoo artists on staff and a rotation of guest artists recruited by general manager Simone Brochard, Adorned is about diversity.
“Christ, you ever see the roster at this place? Ridic!” says Adorned artist Kris Magnotti, who mostly specializes in Japanese work. In addition to Magnotti, Ross and artist Yoni Zilber work the Japanese style as well as bold traditional and fine-line Tibetan art. Artists Brad Stevens and Bart Bingham cater to clients looking for Americana. Elwood prefers portraits and traditional style, while Shinji Horizakura, a member of the renowned Horitoshi family, specializes in traditional tebori.
Each member of this colorful crew came to tattooing from a different upbringing. Bingham dropped his 12-hour shifts at an ER to pursue tattooing. Magnotti, a self-professed half-ass graffiti brat and shitty hardcore band drummer, hung out at a shop so much he was told to pickupabroom and get to work. Zilber knew he wanted to tattoo at the age of 12, when he first pored over the pages of a tattoo magazine. An avid artist, Stevens got the itch in high school. For Ross, “It’s the old story of being young and seeing real cats doing real shit,” he says. “They just looked cool, strong. I wanted to be those things, I suppose.”
Horizakura became interested in tattooing after being tattooed himself. And Elwood abandoned her goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer after getting her first tattoo at 15. “I love the immutability of tattooing—not just the permanence on the body, but tattooing’s long-term resilience against outside forces,” she says. “It may continue to bend and grow with the world around it, but it will never break. There will always be unsung tattoo heroes who sit in the chair all day long and pump out amazing work regardless of what the latest trend is.”
Like that unsung tattoo hero, Adorned will continue to flourish with the ever-changing times and trends. But working at the shop, with its prestigious reputation, has become synonymous with making it in the tattoo market. “Long before I was even tattooing, NY Adorned had set the standard in the industry,” says Stevens. “Most of the movers and shakers in the tattoo world have been through Adorned at some point because of its reputation as an artistic hub.”
Being at the top of one’s game can sometimes mean there’s a long way to fall. But the staff at Adorned don’t lose their footing. They’ve managed to retain the shop’s rep and sustain their artistic sensibilities. They do it all by abiding by Leven’s cardinal adage: “We take care of our artists, take care of our customers, work our asses off, and never rest on our laurels.”