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Keepsake wedding tattoos are favors that last forever

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Wedding guests looked on as Chrissi Elkins got a tattoo during the April wedding reception of Chelsea and Philip Anthony, in Clements, Md. Robert Fiore, owner and artist at The Wedding Tattooer, travels to weddings across the country to set up his mobile tattoo studio so the bride, groom, and guests can get real permanent ink during their big day.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Chelsea Burch has her wedding date tattooed on the side of her hand just before the ceremony by artist Robert Fiore, in Clements, Md.

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    A custom tattoo “menu” at the wedding reception of Chelsea and Philip Anthony, in Clements, Md.

NEW YORK >> Lindsay Morris and Stephen Munshin didn’t have to step inside a tattoo parlor to get their first tattoos. All they had to do was attend the wedding of their niece Leslie Merinoff to Brian Kwasnieski in October in New York City.

Morris and Munshin were aware there would be tattoos available during the reception. “And we were not planning on getting one,” said Morris, a photographer.

But by the end of the night, the Sag Harbor, N.Y., couple, who managed to stay ink-free into their early 50s, were using up a tattoo artist’s last needles to have the number “11” put on their wrists. Both were born on that day of the month.

“I guess the idea of it being small and quick made it more inviting,” said Munshin, publisher of Edible magazines in the New York area. “It didn’t seem as much of a challenge or investment. It was Lindsay’s encouragement. I was just drunk enough to concede.”

Not surprisingly, both bride and groom sported tattoos. Merinoff’s designs make up what she calls a “road map of her life” that signify special moments. When she pulls up the sleeves of her sweater in an attempt to get a count, she gives up almost immediately. While planning her wedding, she said she thought, “What better moment to really keep forever?”

Merinoff and Kwasnieski, who own Matchbook Distilling Co., a boutique distillation company in Greenport, N.Y., chose tattoo artist Bryce Oprandi of the Los Angeles area to work at their wedding. The couple covered his travel and accommodations, as well as a flat rate for his time. They had planned for only a few of the 400-plus guests to get small tattoos from a limited selection featuring a coupe glass, the wedding date and others. But Oprandi ended up working on a couple dozen guests up until the end of the night.

Robert Fiore, an artist from Lansdale, Pa., who has been tattooing for 22 years, recently made weddings his whole business. He started the Wedding Tattooer in June, andsince then, has gotten more than 2,000 inquiries for his services.

For these events, Fiore creates a set of four to six small designs, each about the size of a golf ball, from which guests can choose. He’ll tattoo on legs, arms or shoulders. Chests and other more risque body parts, he says, are generally off-limits.

Fiore started this business almost by accident. “In November of 2016, my cousin was getting married and a few months prior he called me to say he wanted to have something ‘awesome’ at the reception,” Fiore said. “We were going over ideas and I said, ‘What if I just came down there and tattooed?’”

His most extensive package costs $1,250, which covers as many guests as he can tattoo over four hours. Each design takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and he brings an assistant who places the stencil on each client and bandages the tattoos after they are complete.

Fiore is not just called upon by the heavily tattooed. “Couples and guests who wouldn’t generally seek out a tattoo, when they’re amongst their family and friends, they’re feeling the moment,” he said. “That would be the one time that someone who has no interest in getting tattooed would.”

At Merinoff’s wedding, not just aunts and uncles got their first tattoos, but friends as well. “Everyone was so happy,” she said. “The space was so beautiful. There’s a feeling that you don’t want it to end, so you take a little bit of that energy and keep it forever.”

Some guests, though, were not quite up to taking home such a permanent wedding favor. “There were some people who were too drunk to get tattoos,” Merinoff said. In those cases, a groomsman “ran interference” as an ink bouncer.

Munshin and Morris look back fondly on their decision to get tattoos. “It was a little bit romantic,” Munshin said, “and a little bit for amusement.”

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