Testing a Tattly: Temporary Tattoos Created by Professional Designers

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Horrified by her young daughter's clip-art temporaries, Tina Roth Eisenberg, the designer known as Swiss Miss, created some of her own

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Why do so many people inject ink into their skin at considerable cost and with much discomfort? Why would any rational being want to indelibly mar their otherwise pristine bodies? And why, knowing the inevitable ravages of age, would they want to inflict self-imposed discolored blemishes anywhere on their extremities?

If not for my wimpy squeamishness, I could see getting a tattoo image that represents something near and dear. I cannot say what the allure is, but the tattoo as a personal statement appeals to me on some deep level. Akin to soldiers wearing medals and fruit-salad over their hearts, tattoos symbolize accomplishment -- if only endurance of the vibrating needle. Still, I am terrified by needles of any kind (even sewing), and pain is not a favorite either. So unless forced by evil powers to do so, I am not likely to have a permanent tattoo. But a temporary one? Well, that's a thought.

And now thanks to Tattly, a new line of temporary designer tattoos, I see the possibility of body decoration in my future.

Tattly is a venture by Tina Roth Eisenberg, the designer and design blogger known as Swiss Miss. A native of Switzerland, her site and Twitter feed are followed by thousands of young designers, and her curated "Creative Mornings" talks by known and up-and-coming industry professionals are extremely well attended. With such a targeted audience, she is in the perfect entrepreneurial trajectory for making and selling design-things, of which temporary tattoos are high on her latest list.

Story continues after the gallery.


What triggered this venture occurred when her five-year old-daughter, Ella. would come home with temporary tattoos. They would "send a shiver down my spine," Eisenberg told me. "Cheaply designed, clip-art graphics, bad typography, you get the idea. I found myself complaining about them, over and over and realized that I can either continue complaining about it or change it."

As a consequence, she reached out to designers she admires, presented them with the idea of designing for "skin" and, within a day, had dozens of submissions in her email inbox. "My idea was welcomed with a lot of excitement," she reported, "I knew I was on to something." From idea to launch of site, it only took two months. Now she's making a profit.

Although Eisenberg acknowledges there is silly element to this, it is also fulfilling a curious, indeed primal, need both to make and wear. Even I have been wearing one for a few weeks that says "MAMA" set in a swirling swash type (designed by my wife, Louise Fili).

Each week, Eisenberg issues four new designs. "We have lots of designs in the pipeline as is and don't really accept submissions," she noted. "We might change that. People really, really want to send in submissions."

When I made a passing comment that Tattly was a novelty item -- a designer's version of the pet rock -- Eisenberg was quick to to take umbrage: "I think of it more like an accessory. Accessories change, adapt to the times and fashion trends. So do we." Okay, granted that Tattly is an accessory, would people wear temporary tats?

"Why do people wear bracelets or fancy hats? It's a form of self-expression," Eisenberg explained. "Plus, temporary tattoos let commitment-phobes toy with the idea of having a tattoo. Some of our folks just want to freak their parents out. I personally just want to feed my inner child."

Is this a sideline or an entrepreneurial stepping stone? "It's just the way I function," Eisenberg concludes, hinting that she needs to get back to work. "I see something that I want to fix and I do it. I am a maker at heart. I coudn't find the right office environment so I created it. I couldn't find the right to-do app, so I made my own. I wanted a more accessible conference-like event, so I created one. My daughter wore ugly temporary tattoos, so I started Tattly. I am just a very pragmatic person."

Tatty is a pragmatic way for neophytes to test the tattoo scene. Problem is, so far mine has been difficult to wash off.

Image: Tattly.

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Steven Heller is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, the co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts, and the co-founder of its MFA Design Criticism program.

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