Scott Campbell on Tattooing Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton Man Bags, and Kanye West

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Photo: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton; Imaxtree

Louis Vuitton and tattoo prints are not two things you'd expect to end up together. One is the province of iconic artistic collaborations with greats like Takashi Murakami, and the other is the primary imagery that graces the waxed and fake-tanned pecs of reality stars like the Situation. But one day, Williamsburg-based celebrity tattoo artist Scott Campbell, whose clients include Marc Jacobs, got a call from Louis Vuitton men's studio director Paul Helbers about collaborating on the label's spring 2011 men's collection. Campbell, an artist in his own right who stages shows around the world, ended up creating tattoo prints for scarves, shirts, and pants in the collection, along with etchings for the label's famous man bags. Louis Vuitton is heralding the launch of the line with a three-part online video series depicting Scott Campbell being Scott Campbell, the first of which you can watch here exclusively. But first, we spoke to Campbell the other day from Russia about the spring 2011 men's line, the stigma associated with tattoo prints, tattooing Marc Jacobs, and more.

So, how's Russia?
I'm in Moscow — I was literally in Afghanistan last week tattooing soldiers on the front lines of this air force base. Now I’m literally in the complete opposite extreme — I’m here for the Pirelli calendar launch.

Do you tattoo the troops regularly?
It's for a project scheduled to launch in a Miami Basel screening. I’ve spent a bit of time tattooing in prisons and different parts of the world. I was telling the director about different experiences, so we thought, What if we did a film tattooing soldiers on the front lines of a war?

That's such a departure from working on Louis Vuitton clothes. How did the collaboration come about?
I first got a call from Paul Helbers. He had been in my shop before in Williamsburg — he didn’t get a tattoo, he was just checking it out — so I met with him and he started discussing the project, and obviously we were talking about Marc [Jacobs]. He said he found me independent of Marc, which is flattering but I’m sure Marc gave him a nudge because he’s been a really good friend of mine for years.

You've given Marc some of his most famous tats.
I love Marc. Honestly, just growing up as this punk-rock skater kid I was never very taken by fashion, and I first met Marc when he was coming to get tattooed. His assistant called me and said, "Hey, this is Casey, I’d like to set up an appointment for Marc to get tattooed." And I was bracing myself for this big fashion-y entourage to come blazing through the shop in all kinds of fabulousness, and he showed up, and it was just him and his boyfriend and was the sweetest, most humble guy.

What are some of the most memorable tattoos you've done for him?
The SpongeBob or him as a Simpsons character. I forget what it was for, but Matt Groening did a portrait of him in a Simpsons episode, so he got it tattooed. Or the sofa on his stomach. So often people put so much responsibility on a tattoo, but Marc has such a lightheartedness about it — he woke up in the morning and he looked at SpongeBob and it made him smile. Like, “It feels good to look at that so I want to look at that.”

Now when people hear tattoo prints, a lot of them think bad Ed Hardy T-shirts.
I think when I first met with Paul about it, when he first said, "Hey, I want to do a collaboration, have it be tattoo-inspired," I think we both at the same moment said, "Okay, not like Ed Hardy."

Right. There's such a stigma associated with tattoo-printed clothing.
Tattooing in general has changed so much in the past, with reality shows, and you see tattoos in the media so much now. It’s so overexposed. I feel like there are definitely things that are really beautiful about tattooing that are still underacknowledged. I feel like it’s part of my responsibility, with whatever attention I get from the art and fashion world, to really be loyal to what I love about tattooing and take it back from reality shows and Ed Hardy.

In this video we see you running, and I know you just did your first New York marathon. How did you celebrate after finishing?
I went back home and nursed myself since I was actually sick from a trip to Mexico City. Then Kanye West and his crew came by the studio that night, so I had to meet with him at like seven o’clock.

Did you tattoo Kanye?
We’d gone back and forth a bunch via e-mail, so we drew a bunch of stuff and kind of put a bunch of different stencils on him, and I'm supposed to tattoo him when I'm back in New York in about a week.

Can you tell us what he's getting?
It’s a pretty personal story, and it’s definitely his to tell, not mine, but I was really impressed by Kanye as well. He’s a really sharp guy.

See Campbell in action in the video.