Tattooing A to Z #7: Bruno Coccioli

Bruno Coccioli is considered the father of French tattooing. Pioneer of the body art, Bruno was the first professional tattooist in France, and his professional name is simply “Bruno”. He opened the first tattoo studio in Paris in 1960, setting up his business in the infamous red light district of Pigalle. In keeping with the spirit of Pigalle quarter, he works night-owl hours – until 2 am or later every night. Unlike other north European countries, there were no professional tattooist in France at that time and tattoos were strictly connected to sailors, prostitutes, inmates and other social outcasts. In 1964, Bruno was the only licensed tattoo artist in France.

Inclined toward art since his childhood, Bruno first turned to tattooing at age 20. After two years of study at home, he left for three years of travel and training in Holland and other European countries.

In Holland he had the opportunity to become the apprentice of the most famous Dutch tattooer, Tattoo Peter from Amsterdam.

Peter and Bruno equipped a van as a mobile tattoo shop and they decided to travel all over Europe working illegally, mostly in Germany. The sister of Bruno, a French singer, married Peter and she became famous as the “Edith Piaf of the North“. Back in France, Bruno established a reputation so solid that international visitors went out of their way to get a personal engraving from him. He decided to open his first tattoo shop in the port of Le Havre in Normandy, but the business was so slow he decided soon to come back to Paris, boulevard de Clichy, in the XVIII arrondissement in what was considered the Red Light district of the city.

Bruno Coccioli, Watercolour by Pepe
Bruno Coccioli, Watercolour by Pepe

An eager observer of the world of tattooing, Bruno reached out to the design preferences of soldiers from every country. Italians and Spaniards usually wanted religious decoration, he reported, while American soldiers often had symbols of their military service. As for the romantic Frenchmen, they asked for designs that displayed their love. Bruno paid attention to every aspect of tattooing, from the artistry to the hygienic conditions, setting up the first French tattoo supply named the “Jet France Company“, writing the first tattoo book in French Tatoués, qui êtes-vous?, the biggest reference for the future generations of French tattooers. Bruno has also encouraged the French Ministry of Public Health to have everyone’s blood type tattooed under the left arm ‒ a safe and almost invisible insurance that blood transfusions can be made rapidly in case of accident.

Bruno tattooed celebrities, kings, politicians as Barry Goldwater and his tattoos were photographed by his friend and famous photographer Robert Doisneau, the pioneer of photojournalism. After 50 years of business, Bruno decided to retire in the early 2000, due to a visual impairment.

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