Tattoo artist Mario Barth was expecting a huge number of people, perhaps as many as 25,000, to attend the convention he organized for this past weekend at the plush casino Mandalay Bay (the resort connected to a Four Seasons).
That was the main driver to deciding to both open his first shop outside New Jersey and bringing his convention from Jersey to Mandalay Bay. “The past five years the numbers have become so big for both tattooing and the convention that New Jersey was maxed out. We had to bring it to Vegas to get it to the next level: more credibility, more exposure and a place where the general public feels secure.” Barth says. “Now it is everyone who wants a tattoo. It is no longer a subculture where you have to be a biker. Our main tattoo customer in Vegas is a soccer mom. It is seen now as individual expression and fashion. The buyer is the general public. ”
And while Huntinging credits the cable show with having pushed things along, he admits he had already seen the change coming in 2004. “The stigma was already gone. I was seeing tattoos on all the girls and all the guys I know. And I wanted to be the first one on the bandwagon.”
Barth plans to open his next project in Vegas at the Mirage by New Year’s Eve. “We are building the highest-end studio ever built. It looks like a baroque castle.” And in the Vegas Mannerist tradition this will not be a mere tattoo parlor but a mix of a tattoo parlor and what he calls an ultralounge. “You can go in hang out, have drink and get a tattoo. It is a great concept.”
And as the ultralounge name suggests, tattooing has gone not only mainstream but has surprisingly developed a luxury niche. Barth, for example, has a two-year waiting list for clients who pay a minimum of $10,000 up to where some of his work he can command hundreds of thousands of dollars to perform. “They are buying a Mario Barth. Ninety percent of my customers you would call luxury customers. They are buying on the name. They are not buying a tattoo anymore. They are buying a piece of art. It is very exclusive, and they know it. CEOs reach out to us.”
In fact, accompanying Barth one day on the floor of the convention was friend and client Sylvester Stallone. He noted that the day before he had done work on singer Usher. Tommy Lee is another friend and client. “Tattoos take time to do. You talk a lot. It is like with a hair dresser. You get to know people.”