In Calais, a little town in northern France, a 14-year-old boy ditched school to hang out with bikers and fishermen.
But he wasn’t there to watch them reel in the day’s catch. Phil Van Roy was more interested in the way they decorated their bodies in tattoos from head to toe. His parents disapproved of his tattoo obsession, but he didn’t care. When he turned 18, he journeyed to Paris to begin tattoo apprenticeships with the famous motorcycle club — Hells Angels.
Years later he opened his very own shop, the Tattoo Ranch, in Versailles. He met his now wife at a Cajun music festival in Paris. They decided to move to Lafayette to be closer to her family.
“I love Cajun culture and food,” Van Roy says. “I love how young people still learn Cajun French and keep the culture alive.”
Two years after arriving in Lafayette, Van Roy partnered with Charlie Bear, colleague, friend, and fellow tattoo artist, to open Be True Tattoo and Piercing in July 2023. Their partnership created something different on the local tattoo scene.
Tattoo shops can be intimidating, male-dominated spaces, but Van Roy aims to curate a more relaxing vibe.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Van Roy said. “We wanted something more Zen and with a good atmosphere. I’m 46 now. I have kids. We want some plants and natural light, not loud rock n’ roll music.”
Walking through the doors of Be True, one can expect smiling faces, French folk music playing softly, and the light buzz of Van Roy’s tattoo gun.
Van Roy has had more success in America because he prefers a more neo-traditional style of tattooing, featuring heavier line weight and more color variations, which isn’t very popular in France.
“I’m very passionate about the U.S.A. It was really hard to sell my traditional style tattoos in France,” Van Roy says. “People weren’t used to my simple designs. I was maybe one of the first artists to do neo-traditional tattoos in France.”
Van Roy has come a long way from the piers in Calais. But he hasn’t left France behind as he builds a business and a family here.
“I want to hopefully open a tattoo shop with my wife one day,” Van Roy said. “I’d like to incorporate my French culture and music even more.”