Article by Miles Andersen
Photography by Steve Prue
One flight up at number 269 on New York’s famous Canal Street sits Unimax Tattoo Supply, a one-stop shop for most everything related to the practice of body modification. Unimax was founded and is owned to this day by tattoo scene veteran of over 20 years, Wes Wood. The store has long been a fixture on Canal Street and the shop has been at the current address for the past decade. The vibe at Unimax is laid back and the absence of attitude makes for an experience that is just as painless for newbie collectors and fledgling artists as it is for the veteran set. A large part of the charm and personality of the establishment comes from two of the Unimax employees, Vanessa Fortin and Caitlyn Breen. Both Native New Yorkers, Vanessa has managed Unimax East (there is a sister shop in Arlington, TX) for most of the ten years she’s been with the company. Caitlyn was hired onto the sales and floor staff in 2008.
Vanessa got bitten by the tattoo bug as a youngster when her parents owned an art gallery in Upstate New York. Across the street from the gallery lived a couple of bikers whose ink collections planted the seed for Vanessa’s future love affair with the ink and needle. Vanessa’s family relocated to New Mexico, where she later began working with tattoo equipment, a skill that would one day get her foot in the door when she came back to the Big Apple and applied for work at Unimax.
“I got the job here because I knew how to make tattoo machines.” Vanessa explains. “That was my in.” Vanessa moved up quickly in the company and was managing the
New York store within her first year of employment.”
It was about two years ago that Vanessa and Caitlyn’s paths first crossed when the girl from Long Island, and current Brooklyn resident came to Vanessa looking for work. “With Caitlyn, anything goes,” Vanessa says of her close friend and co-worker. “She’s young and she’s got great energy. I love to be around that.”
Growing up in Port Washington, Caitlyn didn’t see a whole lot of heavily tatted people, but she found herself intrigued by the artwork and colors of the tattoo community members she did occasional encounter.
Caitlyn says that the pieces in her collection hold no hidden meanings or contain an autobiographical element. “When I see something I like, I’ll be like, ‘I want that tattooed on me,” says Caitlyn who describes her pieces as running from the “ridiculous” to the “classic.” Caitlyn got her first piece, the lightening bolt on her wrist, when she and her sister cut school to get inked. She followed that up with the ivy on her hips, work she regrettably has yet to complete. The prized piece in Caitlyn’s collection is the portrait of Marylin Monroe that sits on her upper right leg that was inked by Lalo from Sacred Tattoo, a New York shop founded and owned by Wes Wood. Caitlyn’s main artist these days is her boyfriend Mike Deering, who works out of A-List Tattoo in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.
It was during her time in New Mexico developing the craft of machine building that Vanessa embarked on her own collection. “None of this was really planned,” said Vanessa about her intricate sleeve work. “I sort of just went piece by piece with it. You can see that I like lots of color. A big part of this is being able to find the right artist. A lot of artists contributed to the work, too many to star naming them.”
One of the more outstanding and meaningful pieces on Vanessa’s skin is the lone portrait in her collection, Frida Kahlo on her left leg. The piece is a tribute to her favorite artist and someone she has looked up to since childhood. “I love her and I wanted to be able to carry her around with me,” Vanessa confides.
Aside from the work the ladies do at the shop, another element of their job entails representing the company at many of the region’s conventions, a facet of the job that Caitlyn Breen takes great pleasure in. “I love doing the conventions,” says Caitlyn. “I love meeting people and getting to see old friends. Whenever there’s a convention coming up, I jump all over it.” And being able to share the experience with a good friend is the icing on the proverbial cake for Caitlyn. “Vanessa has become a very good friend, and she’s also the best manager I have ever worked for. I’m very happy here.”
As for Vanessa Fortin, she has achieved what most people can only dream of– being able to make a living doing what makes her happy. “I love this company and I hope to grow even more with it. I don’t have any plans on leaving anytime soon. And Caitlyn’s friendship and energy helps keep me going. This really feels like home for me.”
269 Canal St
New York, NY 10013
2055 E Division St.
Arlington, Texas 76011