The VIP’s tattoo artist and their torment: “I advised against Ilary’s initials for Totti”

A living skin canvas is filled with art on an old barber chair. Francesco sits on the stool, an occasional word of comfort for the suffering client who has been tortured by the needles and yet is happy, in ecstasy, intoxicated by the hum. Black gloves and a surgeon’s gaze, the tattooist’s eye studies the stroke, the lines, the nuances. His engine rumbles, which is a pleasure. Safely driving, Francesco works with velvety hands to the slow rhythm of the music that fills the Testaccio loft, which is sunk in semi-darkness. It’s almost dawn. A few final strokes and the job is done. His new creature: an oriental demon of a woman who seems to be screaming something from the chest of a man, a fifty-year-old Roman professional, on whom she has just been indelibly marked in black ink. “But he’s a good demon, he brings good luck,” the overly satisfied customer reassures us. The job is done. Francesco Cinti Piredda57 years old, former tattoo artist of the now erupting couple Totti-Ilary Blasi, but also of the writer, actor and other well-known faces, Roberto Saviano, Edoardo Leo, Fiordaliso, Michela Quattrociocche, Ivan ZaytsevHe gets off the stool to stretch a little, lights a cigarette and inhales the smoke until he chokes. Remember what his friend Orient Ching, one of the most popular Taiwanese tattoo artists, told him on the phone the other day: “You in Italy are crazy about tattoos, You have become the first in the world, you now have 1-2 congresses a week, the 2023 calendar is full of appointments, Milan, Turin, Vicenza, Verona, Florence, Carrara, Bologna, Palermo, Rome…».

In the basket

Cinti Piredda says his friend from Taiwan is right: “The tattoo has now entered the basket of Istat, as a consumer good, there are those who even go so far as to ask for money to get a tattoo, crazy but me people.” So I’m sending it back because While the tattoo stems from a real need, it will never be as important as bread. I also refuse to get tattoos on my hands, neck and face because it makes it difficult to get and keep a job. People are doing badly, leaving disappointed, but in the meantime I think I’ve saved someone’s skin.” In every way. According to a study by the Berlin startup Dalia Research a year ago, 48% of the Italian population now have at least one tattoo. We are the most tattooed country in the world, ahead of Sweden (47%) and the US (46%). But after just one year, according to the study, one in four people who had a tattoo would like to remove it from their skin, especially children who experience it “as a whim” – according to Cinti, due to social networks. Fashions, of characters like Chiara Ferragni, Fedez, Fabrizio Corona” and they tattoo everything, even the ghosts of Snapchat.


But then Children regret and adults also regret Because very often, the tattoo requested by clients bears the partner’s name or the intertwined initials of the couple, which is very strong at that moment, but then, like everything else, runs the risk of breaking. “There’s such a long waiting list from my doctor friend who I send her to to have her laser removed,” says the tattoo artist. In fact, he was the first – very clever and far-sighted – to advise his customers not to have their partners’ initials engraved: this is what happened to Francesco Totti, But the then captain remained stubborn. So we ask him: did Totti also happen to call to have all traces of his wife erased from his forearms as the Ilary affair is headed for a divorce? “No,” interrupts the friend.

He only works at night one in hundred in his shop, which, unsurprisingly, he called “Unopercento”: he greets the customer with whom he has made an appointment, then lowers the shutter at Via Ginori 9 and begins an almost introspective journey while the rest of the world goes to sleep. Here there are no books to flip through, no tigers or birds or snakes or cheap flowers, no fair of the obvious because “the photo album from which the client chooses the tattoo is the one they themselves already have in their heart” says it Francis. That is, images, memories, sounds of a life that eventually become “the” drawing or “the” writing made with the “brush calligraphy” invented by Cinti and direct daughter of the “Japanese Shodo”, the oriental brush art script , which turns the ideogram into an illegible mystery for all but those who carved it. The tattoo expresses a need, we said. And this is also confirmed by the man who decided to spend his evening with us: Francesco’s client is Alberto Lauro, 50 years old, wife, two children, freelancer and says so The tattoo “is a therapy, some go to the analyst, I go to the tattoo artist”. Half of his body is tattooed, half isn’t: “Actually, where I don’t have tattoos, I feel naked,” he says. He admits that he’s also a bit of an “exhibitionist” and willingly strips at the seaside. But the torture of the needles is actually “a pleasure without being masochistic” for him, because “I am the canvas,” he explains, “and unfortunately it is not infinite.” Alberto got his first tattoo ten years ago when his mother died. He felt the “need” for it, he says. It was “Mama”, the inscription that Francesco originally wanted tattooed. “But that – adds Cinti – would have been a painful writing, instead we talked for a long time and in the end we found another way, a different writing that only Alberto can read and where the law always smiles.” “How many things happen at night,” sighs Francesco, feeling a bit like “the tailor” putting on all that skin. In Testaccio we still remember Signor Cesare, who one evening at the age of 78 knocked at the gate in Via Ginori to have the inscription tattooed on his back: “Life is beautiful… but short». Cinti also has her tattoo and her agony: she had it done in Japan ten years ago and it’s not finished yet, it’s a Foo Dog pup, the Chinese lion playing with flying sparrows. There’s so much pain inside Grandfather Franco, who is no longer here, used to call him and his brother “my sparrows” when they were children.


Criminologist Vincenzo Mastronardi, in the 2021 book The Secrets of Criminal Tattoos, wrote about the “illustrated man syndrome” that the tattoo is “a means of personological affirmation to overcome self-esteem risk.” And he gave the example of a prisoner fully tattooed: “A snake on the penis, a letter to his mother on the left shoulder, his fiancee’s face on the right.” In practice, a psychobiography is engraved on the skin. It’s like thanks to these tattoos he’s saying: I’m not my cell phone number, I’m the tiger, the snake that I carry with me. I am not a body but a man with his own story.” Each has its own story and need, its own void to be filled in some way, with lizards and tribal geckos or Polynesian Maori symbols or even skulls, Crosses, cobwebs, the faces of Jesus Christ and Maradona, song lyrics and mottos of Christmas. And now the business is growing dramatically. With the black market – tattoos done by beginners for 15 euros – and the famous studios, where the costs are rising, but every little touch has a reason: the trays of paint, the wet plaster, the right creams for afterwards, an almost obsessive concern about health etc hygiene (Cinti still has the anti-Covid smear done on those who enter). in summary, Prêt-à-porter tattoos and tailor tattoos, but always in odd numbers, otherwise it’s bad luck, so the lore goes. It used to be for sailors, prisoners, sons of nobles and monks, but now tattooing is for everyone and there are around 6,000 companies specializing in tattoos and piercings, according to 2022 Unioncamere data. The explosion happened after the pandemic, after the shutdowns, after our 180,000 dead. “Many – says Francesco – ran to get tattooed, as if to say: I’m still here, I exist, despite everything.” That’s enough. It’s time to ramp up the shutter. Another night of tattooing has passed, the good demons painted on his client’s flesh also fall asleep. As Alberto Lauro said goodbye, he confessed that Cinti had a geisha that he was carrying on his back removed and replaced with a heron. Today he is doing much better, he says, he feels happier. We hope so for him. After all, a tattoo is a wound that you carry around with you, and the wounds don’t always heal, almost never.

May 13, 2023