Crystana Lattimore is a tattoo artist, model and star of Black Ink Crew, a VH1 reality show about Harlem’s only black-owned tattoo shop.
Known as “The Dutchess of Ink,” (Dutchess for short) she recently relocated from Harlem, NY to Charlotte, NC to open her own shop.
She opened Pretty-n-Ink in December on South Tryon next to Tremont Music Hall (RIP).
So why did a reality star with 1 million Facebook followers decide to leave the splendors of New York and start a shop in Charlotte?
Well, for Dutchess, this is coming home. Dutchess is from Lincolnton and her family all still live in NC. Plus, now that she’s big time, she feels like she can be a good role model for kids in this area.
As she put it, “Growing up, I didn’t see enough successful young people that looked like me… I think it’s important that our young kids see that people from right here can be just as dope as they are.”
If you can’t already tell, Dutchess is not your typical reality star.
She was in the top 10 of her class in high school and went on to graduate cum laude from North Carolina A&T. And now she’s planning on going back to finish her masters.
Dutchess is using her smarts to launch Pretty-n-Ink in her own way. This is not a “walk-in, pick a design off the wall and get it tattooed” kind of shop. The tattoo artists at her shop are just that — artists.
Dutchess explains, “You can bring us a picture of what you want but what we’re going to do is transform that into something that is beyond your dreams… No one else will have your tattoo.”
“I wanted to have a luxury tattoo shop because I wanted people to realize that this is a real art form. We want to give people something that grows old with them, that tells their story.”
Along with Dutchess, eight other artists work at Pretty-n-Ink and hail from all over: Philly, D.C. and even Colorado. And these guys serve big name clients. They’ve tatted up Marvin Williams, Kevin Gates and will even be working on three Panthers players (after the season ends, of course.)
But Pretty-n-Ink is more than just a tattoo shop with a brilliant name.
Dutchess has set up her shop to be a pillar in the community. It’s a designated Safe Place (you’ve seen those yellow signs for runaways) and she holds community events once a month. Last month she had foster children come in for a painting class with her and her employees.
This month she invited 12 women from the battered women’s shelter to come in and get tattoos that symbolize their journey. Dutchess added in a surprise to give the women head-to-toe makeovers and a free dinner.
Yeah, I don’t know many other tattoo shops doing that.
By the way, once I met Dutchess I just had to check out her TV show. And she’s not a perfect little angel. In one of the clips that I watched, Dutchess was fighting with ex-employee, Puma. She was wearing a scandalous dress but still ready to rumble which I both respect and admire.
But I think that’s what I like most about her.
She isn’t trying to put on airs, be someone that she’s not. She’s a badass, an artist and a philanthropist. And maybe someday she’ll even add mayor to that list.
As Dutchess tells it, “I want this shop to be a pillar in the community. Something that people can expect great things from. I’ve also created my personal prediction: I want to run for mayor in five years. And I might be the first black female mayor of Charlotte.”
If she keeps this up, I have no doubt that we’ll see her at Charlotte Agenda’s next PechaKucha style Mayoral Candidates Forum.
Call 704-495-4127 to make an appointment at Pretty-n-Ink. Even if you don’t want a tattoo, I still urge you to check out their space at 2030 S. Tryon Street during their hours of 12-8 p.m. It’s artsy, edgy and way too cool for me. As one of the tattoo artists pointed out, “Yeah, there’s no way that you have any tattoos.”
I may not have any tattoos, but thanks to Dutchess, I now have this cool hat.