A seasoned interdisciplinary artist, Chloé Besson found a niche in Denver’s tattoo scene and debuted the concept, MADÉ Tattoo & Mercantile to the public last month.
“I thought about opening my own shop the second I committed to being a tattoo artist,” said Besson. “I don’t take taking up tattooing lightly. I think being a self-taught artist is great, but I had a lot of shame around that and a fear of sharing it for a while because I’m very serious about my business, my practice and my career as an artist. Lots of people can take up something and not take it very seriously,” said Besson.
Besson’s tattoo career is serious business. The self-taught artist who earned her BFA from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2015, researched, read, watched and listened to just about everything she could get her hands on to learn all about the art of ink. Her fine-line style and contemporary designs earned her recognition after being hired to illustrate the artwork for The Door to Witchcraft: A Modern History Guide. Besson says the gig took her career in a new direction. “People were really attracted to what I was sharing on social media and folks started approaching me asking me if I did tattoos.”
Despite having several of her own, tattooing others hadn’t crossed Besson’s mind. “I definitely never thought I was good enough or cool enough to do that,”–she is. “People started commissioning me to design pieces for them to take to other artists (with permission of the artist). I did maybe five of those and it started sinking in: if people are going to be getting my work on them permanently, I want to be the one to hold that space and connect with them.”
She reached out to a U.K.-based artist that she admired and flew out for a tattoo appointment to learn from a muse. “She taught me some things while she was tattooing me, so that was kind of the closest thing to an apprenticeship I had.” It may not be the traditional route, but Besson is hardly trying to walk that way.
“There was this energy of ‘you can’t get in [the tattoo industry] without a key, but you can’t get a key unless you know somebody.’ I was turned off by that exclusivity” she said.” “I’m an artist and a creative who chose to take up a new medium, as opposed to seeing tattooing as a separate from the art world. There’s a gap that can be filled.”
Besson’s tattoo shop is an unexpectedly warm alcove compared to the cliched image of a degenerate tattoo den. The walls are light, mellow music trumps over heavy metal and the retail space has art, apothecary and home goods. “I think that came from just who I am as a person and then also the frustration of getting a lot of closed doors,” she said. “The concept was out of me being frustrated by the discrimination, intimidation and lack of care that largely exists in tattooing, especially in experiences I had where I didn’t feel comfortable to speak up or ask for what I need.”
Besson’s concept holds an accommodating space while local artists and community members are crucial to its success and growth, she also wants to focus on inclusivity and ensuring a comfortable experience. “If you’re getting this procedure done with a stranger, I found it important to create spaces in which people feel comfortable and welcome and align with their artists eye-to-eye and not feel looked down upon and feel they can’t speak up.”
Out of an inspiration to build a network of artists and community support – and maybe a little spite – the ceramicist, photographer and multifaceted artist developed the new concept in Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood. “I wanted a space where there’s a retail side so people who aren’t getting tattooed can also feel welcome. MADÉ is for the senses and a space where people can look at things, and touch things and smell things and be taken care of.”
She plans on hosting regular pop-ups, art shows and events at the new space to build an artist network and community support under the brand’s umbrella. “I wanted this to be a space where different artists can collaborate,” she explained. “And I think it’s one of the coolest things to see creatives come together to boost each other up and promote each other.”
The retail portion of MADÉ Tattoo & Mercantile holds both handmade and second-hand pottery–many made by Besson herself–art and photography prints, jewelry, accessories and several other pieces by local artists and creators.
Besson says taking on more artists and providing a space for community gatherings is crucial to her vision of an artist community. “My biggest goal is to just have a safe space for tattooing, we are somewhere that acknowledges people’s own experiences, it’s a trauma-informed tattoo space that’s equitable and non-discriminatory and who genuinely care about their clients and community.”
MADÉ Tattoo & Mercantile is located at 4414 Yates St, Denver, CO 80212
All photography courtesy of Chloé Besson.