Style » Life :: Tattoo Couture

by Andrea Calabretta
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 11, 2008

Marisa DiMattia is a study in contradictions. "My life is kind of schizophrenic right now," she tells me. "I spend half my time working at big American law firms, and half my time writing about tattoos."

As the managing editor of, a relatively new online hub of tattoo culture and community, DiMattia gets to pursue her passion- the one she keeps covered with conservative suits on days at the office, spent in corporate legal consulting and communications.

This apparent contradiction is exactly what makes unique. Unlike sites that promote a stereotypical image of the tattooed lifestyle, Needled bills itself as "tattoo couture," and DiMattia says she is "not afraid to use big words" on her Needled blog.

Her mission is to advance the idea that "tattooing can be a fine art," not just a mistake made on Spring Break. She promotes the process of choosing a tattoo artist to create a unique and personal work of art as a very serious undertaking, and a big responsibility for the person being tattooed.

DiMattia's own body art began with a crest from Alexander the Great (she's Greek), which she got her first week of law school. The second came when she passed the bar exam. She now wears two blackwork sleeves as well as a back piece, and hidden under her hair on the back of her head, her only color tattoo: a little girl with red pigtails, which she calls her alter-ego.

"Getting tattooed used to be about marking a moment," she says. "Now it's more about art for art's sake. They make me feel beautiful. When I look in the mirror, I love the way I look with these dark tattoos against my very pale skin."

A reverence for fine-art tattooing is clear at, where you can view tattoo art by genre; South-East Asian, Bio-Mechanical, Realism, and Americana, among others. The visual imagery on the site is stunning: from photos of tattoos, to video interviews with artists, to short films that cover tattoo conventions. These additions, along with histories of each genre, came with a re-launch of the site in May under RIVR Media Interactive.

DiMattia's blog covers photo exhibits, book releases, community events, as well as the largely under-appreciated history of tattooing. "The roots of tattooing in the US were really pushed by the gay community," DiMattia says. "There was this early perception that tattoos were really 'macho,' but a lot of the great tattoo artists in the underground were gay."

Her hope with Needled is to provide a comfortable community space for everyone, not just in the US, but also abroad. "People are much more accepting [of tattoos] in Europe," DiMattia says. "There's not this automatic association with criminality. And people tend to get much bigger [tattoo] work."

Currently, DiMattia divides her time between New York and Belgium, where she lives with her tattoo-artist husband Daniel DiMattia, the blackwork expert based at Calypso Tattoo in Liege. Their circle of contacts in the tattoo community is world-wide, and DiMattia uses her Needled blog to report regularly on her travels to tattoo conventions across the globe.

In the future, will allow audience contributions to the site in the form of personal pages, uploaded photos and other user-generated content. Beyond that, a marketplace for tattoo aficionados will eventually open up.

In the meantime, DiMattia is working on a book called Tattoo Law, which covers everything from free speech, to copyright of tattoo art, to employment discrimination, to insurance for tattoo artists. As she writes, the laws are changing constantly. Bans on tattoos have recently been overturned in Key West, Utah and Oklahoma.

"There's still a lot of prejudice out there," she says. And yet, she takes as a hopeful sign the crowds she sees at tattoo conventions, "which include bikers, soccer moms, corporate types, gays and lesbians, even grandmothers" all pursuing body art that makes them feel beautiful.

"It's like a utopia," she says.

Andrea Calabretta is a freelance writer and editor living in Back Bay.


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