On a recent afternoon, as I was walking on 21st Street I spotted a familiar name: Dermafilia.
The name took me back to my teenage days in Mexico City when I was into piercings and forced my sister to accompany me to get pierced at the popular market of El Chopo, a huge street market where different subcultures interact –goths, anarchists, punks, artists, hippies, musicians, tattoo artists and piercers.
There, you could pick up on who the real piercers and tattoo artists were and where they had their shops. That’s how I learned of Dermafilia, a store in a neighborhood south of Mexico City that did popular surgical steel piercings.
Back on 21st Street, I walked in and asked if there was any relationship with the legendary store in Mexico. It turns out, said Wilson Posada, one of the owners of Dermafilia on 21st Street, that there is.
Dermafilia started out as a Mexico City collective in 1994 because it allowed the group of young men to venture into the art, tattoo and piercing scene without having money to open a store. The collective become popular and so did some of its founding members. Dr. Lakra, for example, became a well known tattoo artist who successfully dabbled in the contemporary art scene; El Piraña is known for being the tattoo artist of choice for Latino rock musicians and Tiosha, came up – along with some designs – with its catchy name.
In 1994 Wilson Posada, then 16, began to work his way up at the Dermafilia Collective. He started piercing in Culhuacán, a working class neighborhood where he is from, as well as other street markets. Along the way, Posada’s uncle taught him jewelry and he started to distribute the popular pieces. Then in the late 1990s, the group started to fall apart and a legal battle for the name ensued.
Posada acquired the legal rights to the name and decided it was time to start fresh in San Francisco. Opening, however, took some time because his command of the English language wasn’t the best and his jobs were limited to back of the house restaurant positions.
He took some of those and took English classes at City College. Then, in 2006, he and his wife Kyana Holzman, opened at 3382 19th Street. That shop had to close in 2011 when they lost their lease. “I lost everything, around $25K,” he said.
During that time, he continued to work as a tattoo artist elsewhere and also focused on his music. “I am also a musician, so I tried that avenue,” he said of Reporte Ilegal, a hip-hop group in Spanish.
This summer, Posada, 37, and his wife didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to set shop at 21st and Mission. The landlord has given them a five-year lease and already he’s getting return customers.
Álvaro Portillo, who had been living in the Mission for the past 10 years, stopped by with a friend who was looking for a job as a tattoo artist. Portillo has gotten tattoos from Posada. “I have been to different studios here, and even though they are in the Mission, I think [Posada’s designs] are more authentic,” he said.
Visit Dermafilia, located on 3182 21st Street (at Mission Street). Opened every day from 12p.m. to 8p.m.
This has been your Afternoon Report—a new series we’re trying out in which we offer a quickie post-meridian rundown of some minor developments in the always-happening streets of the Mission District. Got ideas or suggestions? Let us know what you think by sending an email to email@example.com.