Sweet-smelling rebellion

One-stop shopping for septum rings, full-back tattoos and scented candles

Tattoo artist Ray Bumpus adorns the leg of a customer at Fondue Body Boutique in Sparks.

Tattoo artist Ray Bumpus adorns the leg of a customer at Fondue Body Boutique in Sparks.

Photo by David Robert

Fondue Body Boutique, located on Greenbrae Drive in Sparks across the street from the Sparks Justice Court, offers tattooing and, in step with the trend of offering multiple forms of body modification under one roof, piercing. Less predictably, you can also buy scented candles there.

Then again, with a name like “Fondue Body Boutique"—a name that calls up images of day spas, not burly tattoo parlors—maybe it’s not that surprising.

As you walk in, sweet smells flood your nose. Young, shaved heads, artificially-colored heads and normal heads bob in and out of the back rooms. A well-dressed woman talks to the clerk about the box of candles she ordered. Cushioned chairs surround a coffee table.

You hear the distinct buzz of a tattoo machine. The kids hovering around the front counter, you realize, are picking out jewelry to decorate their bodies. If you venture to the back, you see a wiry, longhaired, tattooed guy hunched over someone else’s body part, delicately inking a design onto skin. And on the right is a room as clean and clinical as a hospital’s. This is where body parts are pierced and jewelry is inserted to fill holes. A quick visual survey of the kids here suggests that most of them will never have to visit the justice court across the street.

“There’s glitter and mirrors here,” says Ray Bumpus, a tattoo artist at Fondue. “Of all the shops [I’ve worked at], this is the most comfortable. People are relaxed here.”

As he talks, he traces an original drawing of a coyote standing on two legs with a jester’s hat. The coyote has a staff in its hand with a rabbit’s head at the top. Amber Velasquez, 20, who drew the coyote, watches intently. Bumpus will soon print the image onto Velasquez’s shoulder.

Bumpus says he’s put everything under the sun on people’s bodies. Many young girls ask for butterflies and kanjis, or oriental characters, on their lower backs and shoulders.

Fondue’s range of products and services helps bring in a variety of clientele, Bumpus says, including moms who buy candles and later bring their teenaged daughters in to get tattooed or pierced, or both. Bumpus says he sometimes tattoos entire families—not only mothers and daughters, but also uncles and grandparents. He also tattoos ages 16 and up with a parent’s consent, unlike most tattoo shops, which tattoo only those 18 and over.

Bumpus acknowledges that the demand for tattoos has shifted from its original hardcore base. But he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I got tired of all that rock star bullshit.”

Fondue represents the hip, mainstream vein of tattooing that just never seems to stop growing. It’s no secret that there’s a new breed of young people getting tattooed: those young girls with the small, delicate designs. This trend makes one wonder if, because of its growing “pop” appeal, tattooing hasn’t been robbed of its mystique and cool.

At Stingray Tattoo on Wells Avenue, there are no scented candles. You’ll see a lot of people like Cory Henderson, 23, walk through its doors. Henderson has amber plugs an inch in diameter in his earlobes. He has a “tribal” design tattoo on his head that is only done full justice when he shaves his head. Much of his upper body is covered in art as well.

“I’ve got quite a few,” Henderson says of his collection of body art.

Henderson is into the punk rock scene and seems to represent the tribe of hardcore dudes who were once synonymous with inking.

That is, until he describes his next project.

“I’m going to get Bob Marley on the whole right side of my chest,” Henderson says. “He was just a neat person, you know, he did a lot of good things.”

So much for hardcore rebellion.

Reyes, another artist at Stingray who Henderson says is good with portraits, looks over a picture of Marley on an album cover. He says he will start the tattoo that night, but that it will take many sittings to finish.

The artist shares Henderson’s intimidating look, but that impression disappears when he starts talking about how he has tattooed pictures of deceased grandfathers onto people.

For Reyes, tattooing hasn’t sold out; it’s as if an elite club got bigger and better. In fact, “People are people” is the response you’ll hear most often from Reno tattoo artists when you ask them to characterize the “type” of people who come into their shops.

“You name it, we welcome it here,” says Rafael, another tattoo artist at Stingray. He says this after giving his own litany of “types,” a list that spans from kindergarten teachers to cops. Half the police force, he explains, is tattooed. Tattoos are a conversation starter—and they build camaraderie.

“A tattoo shows a following, something you wouldn’t understand until you get one,” Rafael says.

But if a club now gives membership cards to bikers, home daycare providers, gang bangers and accountants, does that mean the club has lost its edge? Reno’s tattoo artists, from Bumpus to Reyes, seem to agree: not a chance. The club keeps them busy—and in business.