By MOCH N. KURNIAWAN
A superhero tattoo sketch merging a masked Mexican wrestler head with American eagle wings hangs at the Mission’s Tribus Vivas Dermafilia. It’s brought luck and bucks to the 2-year-old tattoo and piercing shop.
“It is a sample of something unique we are offering, a Latino style mixed with American and Asian styles,” said Wilson Posada, the owner-cum-tattoo and piercing artist of Dermafilia. “And so far it works.”
Posada said that despite the recession, he remained upbeat about the future of Dermafilia, which means love for the skin. The 32-year-old Mexican immigrant attributed his optimism to the store’s special style, the quality of their tattoos and piercings, and the way they’ve explored new styles and built a friendship with customers.
As other examples of their style, he pointed to sketches hanging from the front of the shop to the back that include the face of a Caucasian girl with a geisha hairstyle, and a Mexican tiger with a skull for a head that sits on top of an Aztec pyramid with a wave inspired by a Japanese tsunami in the background.
The melding of styles is a business strategy with roots. Posada said his store, located at 3382 18th St., inherited the strategy from a popular tattoo and piercing parlor in Mexico City also named Dermafilia. That store opened in 1994. Posada worked there until 1997.
“In Mexico, people just love Dermafilia because it gives them quality, always introduces something new, and welcomes other cultur[al] influences,” he said, adding that it became known by participating in international exhibitions.
People from all over the world go to Mexico to learn tattoos from Dermafilia, he said.
Nonetheless, Posada, who was working there as a piercing artist, wanted more. So in 1997 he left for San Francisco. Hot in Mexico, his lack of English left him out in the cold here, and instead of flourishing, he spent two years working in the Mission’s bakeries.
“But I managed to know some local artists at that time and I saw that American-style tattoos were dominant in this mostly Latin American population,” he said.
He saved enough money to return to his hometown in 1999 to study art and to travel in Europe. Inspired by artists creating a personal style, he decided to do the same.
In 2001, Posada returned to the Mission. But this time he worked for Bay Area tattoo and piercing shops. He also took an English course and learned painting, photography, and video shooting at local community colleges. If he had changed, the local tattoo scene had not.
“There was no significant progress in the Mission. American-style tattoos remained dominant. It was pretty strange to me but this motivated me to have my own store,” he said.
By 2007, he’d saved enough to open Dermafilia.
“Dermafilia might now be the only tattoo and piercing shop in the Mission owned by a Mexican. I have never heard other Mexicans open a similar store here,” he said, listening to rock music in his shop.
Nowadays he has three tattoo artists: Alberto Salazar (Mexican), and two Americans who identify as simply Lucas and Tiffany. Each has their own style.
“Salazar, for example, has a style heavily affected by pre-Hispanic culture such as the Aztec pyramid, the snake man and the Mayan warrior, “ Posada said, adding that Salazar combines this with his knowledge of Japanese culture. “He now explores ways to mix both cultures in his tattoos.
“My style is more on contemporary Mexican culture such as rose flowers, the wood cross and religious figures,” said Posada. But he too combines these with American symbols such as the eagle, a simple Caucasian face or Japanese symbols such as the geisha and the sea.
Posada shares space in the store with his wife and co-owner Kyana, an American woman he met in 2002, who sells clothes. Several designers also sell crafts such as handbags, ties and gloves.
Mexican-born Rene Balam, 23, said he ended up in Dermafilia to get a tattoo after searching the Internet.
“I was impressed with Dermafilia’s style. I was also looking for a shop where the employees could speak Spanish as I don’t speak English much,” he said in Spanish while Posada translated.
Balam spent three hours and $400 getting his neck tattooed. Like Balam, most of Dermafilia’s customers are Latinos aged 18 to 35.
“[Balam] is a first-time customer,” Posada said as Balam left the shop to join three friends who picked him up. “He looks happy with the tattoo so he might come back with friends.”
In the meantime, Posada is collecting photos of all of their work to publish in a book. But that will take time and money, he said.
“I want Dermafilia to be more recognized, more successful. I am waiting for that time,” he said.