Renaissance Man: Dr Woo

Andrew Arthur
Tom Kivell
Chloé Brinklow

Dr Woo has never received an actual doctorate; his given name is Brian and he is one of the modern world’s most celebrated tattoo artists. His intricate, hyper-realistic single needle craft has earned him a long list of celebrity clientele; Justin Bieber, Zoë Kravitz, Emilia Clarke, Bella Hadid et al. and a legion of Instagram followers (1.7 million) at time of publish. But Woo never sought out the kind of notoriety that comes with celebrity or proximity to it. Motivated by his creative and entrepreneurial curiosities and future proofing a “decent life” for his young family; he has pioneered a trajectory that is propelled by his artistry and physical talent but exists beyond the individual. Tattoo remains his core craft, his reason to be, though he says, “It is the fuel that energizes all the projects I do outside of what I do.” 

Doing outside of what Woo does can mean anything from collaborating with leading cultural brands like Converse, Lamborghini, Moncler and Japanese apparel brand Sacai in the realm of design capsules and creative consult. Designing and curating his own appointment only tattoo shop, Hideaway @ Suite X located at the iconic Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, or his most recent foray into physical product and brand building with the launch of namesake beauty brand, Project Woo Skincare; designed with both sensitive skin and tattoo aftercare in mind. After shooting GAP’s Individuals campaign in New York City, Woo rolled across town to his long-time friend photographer, Andrew Arthur’s East Village studio who lensed these photos for Puss Puss Magazine. Between takes, we spoke about the Woo universe, identity, motivation, inspiration, his fears and focus. 

Dries Van Noten shirt & Vintage glasses

CB: Who is Dr Woo?
DW: I would say Dr Woo is a self-taught creative, father and mental explorer trying to get to the end of each day fulfilled. 
CB: You’re an artist and a pioneer in the sense that you have propelled your physical talent, beyond the individual and using your hands… moving into this whole new sphere of physical product and really serious branding and collaborations with some of some of the biggest cultural brands. Was that always part of your plan?
DW: It wasn’t always part of my plan but along the way, I started realising that it was going to definitely be implemented into the plan. The first thing was being focussed on being good at what I do and not compromising there, giving it my all and not being distracted. But along the way I realised there was so many other facets of myself that I felt that I really wanted to explore. That’s where I started making time and energy to make sure I didn’t leave areas without a light on. And through the course of just doing what I do, they sort of melded together. Sometimes it worked well and sometimes I had to give it an extra boost in different areas but overall, I think it kind of grew as I was growing. 
CB: And what was the motivation has it been a natural organic progression?
DW: When I first started tattoo I really didn’t have a plan for the future. I just wanted to be able to pay rent and have a life and survive and I didn’t come from formal college, it was a way to have a decent life. Once I had a family there were other creative parts that I thought I could use to secure something better and have stability for the future because tattooing is so unstable, any artist who works with his hands there’s an expiration date in a sense. I wanted to plant seeds and foundations early and find ways that I could keep expressing myself creatively, but also do it in a business sense that would benefit my family in the future. 

Former X The Hunt NYC Leather bomber & Givenchy knit

Balenciaga blazer, Givenchy knit, Helmut Lang trousers & Woo personal jewellery

CB: Is that where Project Woo Skincare came from, tell me more about it?
DW: The Woo Skincare Essentials was born out of one of my creative, entrepreneurial curiosities, if you will. I always loved the idea of brand building and using my creative aspects to touch on those things and see if I can create something desirable and have its own point of view. Skincare seems like such an unexpected turn I think for me, but working so closely to skin for so long, I think it was a natural marriage. 
I grew up with sensitive skin even before all the tattoos and once I started getting tattoos, I realised I wasn’t the kind of kid that could just go buy anything from the pharmacy and just put it on and it would heal, I did have to go through some trial and error with different product because my skin was so sensitive. My whole idea was just to create a product for people that have sensitive and all skin types and kids like me. People who have or don’t have tattoos but appreciate a clean product. Everything we do is earth conscious, we minimise our footprint, and use all clean ingredients. There are people like me and I feel there’s a community out there and it’s fun to create a product that speaks to that specifically. Also having that product be top of the line and made with great integrity.
CB: Do you still love tattoos and how much time do you spend actually tattooing?
DW: Yes, definitely. I feel like there is always a new challenge to be met and there’s definitely an interesting way that artists these days are so new and fresh, and so I am definitely kept on my toes and trying to get better at what I do. I am still in the shop five days a week but since COVID it’s a little different. It’s still a big chunk of what I do, it’s still the fuel that energises all the projects I do outside of what I do. 
CB: How has COVID shifted or changed things for you?
DW: It’s definitely meant taking more time out of the tattoo chair and spending more time with the family, which is great. But everything feels so unbalanced, so it more about getting that balance back and understanding how to do things from home, how to do things remotely and still have enough inspiration and pizazz to go after all these projects we’re working on as well. 

3.1 Phillip Lim Leather blazer, Bottega Veneta knit, Helmut Lang trousers & Prada (woo personal) boots

CB: On travel – I assume that is where you get a lot of your inspiration, have you missed that aspect of your process?
DW: [Travel] is such a big part of me, my brand and how we operate, and with that kind of aspect depleted from the supply we have been really trying to figure out how to fill those voids. I think it’s a good exercise to not rely too much on one thing, being able stay on your toes and be able to pivot with change. 
CB: What about your relationship with the concept of celebrity?
DW: I built a brand to have the work speak for itself and not so much the cult of personality, and you know some people are more famous for being them than for what they do, and I just wanted to be myself and cultivate a cool brand and a creative world, the celebrity aspect I never think of it like that. And then there is people that link my celebrity status with my clientele, I have never liked that or wanted that, I never wanted to be famous on someone else’s dime, or the proximity of fame which some people are so addicted to. I am blessed to have my clientele and I do have clientele from all over, it may seem like I only tattoo celebrities, but it is not the case, it is just a justification for some people who can’t have access. The reality is I just don’t have that many open appointments so I can’t tattoo everyone. I do feel that it’s cool that people get inspired by what I do, or people that share the same beliefs and goals, so if I can work with people in that way and if I am a role model in some way, then I am completely honoured to do that. But for being a celebrity or being famous for famous sakes, that was never a priority for me. 
CB: What are you afraid of?
DW: One of my biggest fears is running out of ideas, losing inspiration, losing my sense of creativity and getting caught up in comparison. And the security of my family and making sure they’re okay, I always worry about them. 
CB: What’s next for Dr Woo?
DW: Next, next. I think for me the important thing is to knuckle down on all the things I have been working on and just bring those to the forefront and focus on working on my own projects versus collaborations, which will always come about but I just want to make sure the grass on my side is always greener. Plant the bridge poles to the next level of what this career is going to be. 
CB: You’re building your legacy?
DW: Yeah, [laughs]. I am trying to. 

Dries Van Noten shirt & Vintage glasses

3.1 Phillip Lim Leather blazer, Bottega Veneta knit, Helmut Lang trousers & Prada (woo personal) boots

Woo personal hoodie, Valentino trousers & Prada boots

Photography: Andrew Arthur
Styling: Tom Kivell
Words: Chloé Brinklow