As with fitness instructors, hair colorists and astrologers, fashion people tend to be a bit cultish about their favorite tattoo artists. You've likely heard of Scott Campbell — known for inking the likes of Marc Jacobs, Kanye West and Olivier Zahm — who's moved his primary focus to fine art in recent years, and Dr. Woo, the unofficial go-to guy for the international blogger set, with Chiara Ferragni and Emily Weiss among his clientele. But perhaps the most buzzy name on the ever-popular body art scene is Keith "Bang Bang" McCurdy, the New York-based artist who counts Cara Delevingne, Jordan Dunn, Kylie Jenner and Katy Perry among his loyal clients — and has an Instagram following that's surpassed 1 million.
At this point, McCurdy is a celebrity in his own right, and the Delaware-born artist — who got his start by inking friends in his mother's kitchen 12 years ago — has a shiny tattoo studio of his own on Broome Street and a brand new autobiography, "Bang Bang: My Life in Ink," which was released on Wednesday. In its pages, McCurdy not only reflects on his very humble beginnings, but also gives fans an intimate look behind the mysterious persona he's built. Plus, thanks to the friendships he's formed with his big-name clients, readers get a glimpse at his surreal day-to-day existence, which includes making house calls on private planes and getting personal invitations to the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. (This year, he was on Selena Gomez's guest list.)
"There's so many extreme lengths I'll go to [in order to tattoo someone]," McCurdy told me at his book launch. "If they ask, I'll do it. I've gone on tour with Katy Perry; I've gone to the Dominican Republic to tattoo Rihanna; I've flown to Panama for Justin Bieber and I've tattooed Cara Delevingne in the middle of the night in a hotel room. Any request, I want to fulfill." While McCurdy insists that these favors are not limited to his celebrity clients, he does credit them to helping his business grow to where it is today.
When asked about trends that are particularly popular among young, fashionable women today, McCurdy paused. These days, people trust him to create a unique design, he said — but that more often than not, their inspiration is initially sourced on Instagram. "We'll get trendy requests or some based on my social media posts, but we stick to that style, not that exact tattoo," he explained. "We steer the ship." It doesn't hurt that his famous clients tend to let their freak flags fly when it comes to his work — for instance, he is the man behind Delevingne's "bacon" tattoo and the delicate lion head inked on her pointer finger.
Considering that many of his customers make a living off of their looks — and a few, like model Ruby Rose, are covered head to toe in tattoos at this point — it's not surprising that McCurdy's gotten some, well, feedback from agents and the like. "Sometimes the manager is there, and they're like 'Really?!' and the answer is, 'Yeah! Yeah, really,'" he said. "Because they want it and it's 'them' — it doesn't negate their talent or ability. Tattooing is decorating your body, it's defining your fashion and we welcome it. As long as we're designing it and coming out well, we want to do it."