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Hosiery Job

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Pantyhose 'tattoos' for the puncture-conscious and uncommitted

By Steve Enders

When Gloria Pequeen entered the placid Denny's restaurant in Scotts Valley, customers' necks craned and jaws dropped as she glided into a booth.

On her right leg and in full public view, she proudly displayed a full-length, red and gold dragon tattoo that snaked its way from her thigh to her ankle. Only a bit of it was hidden by her black skirt.

Gloria's husband, Jim, was sporting a black leather vest and black rimmed hat. The only thing missing from this picture was a loud Hog, which was (yawn) replaced by a dull, silver Buick.

Jennifer Eaton, a 17-year-old from Stockton, approached Gloria right away after spying her monstrous piece of work.

"Oh my God! Did that hurt?" Eaton asked, adding that her four tattoos were extremely painful.

Pequeen stood up and took a step away from the booth. She reached down and stretched the tattoo away from her leg with her fingernails.

The young girl was flabbergasted. Just then Pequeen caught the attention of Alan Sherer, a local sitting in an adjacent booth and sipping a cup of coffee.

"Whoa!" Sherer exclaimed. "That's great!"

Within seconds, the Pequeens' table had attracted about five other people who were all gaping at this bit of fad-and-fashion-meets-fantasy.

The Pequeens, as it turns out, don't have any real tattoos. Gloria has an art degree, and Jim is a chemist at Santa Cruz's Dominican Hospital. Pequeen has a habit of wishing strangers "peace and happiness" as they leave his presence.

"We're literally a mom-and-pop operation," Jim Pequeen said, although the two don't have any kids.

The operation he's talking about is called "Legart Illusions," which since 1995 has been hand-screening tattoo designs on women's hosiery. Using an archaic silk-screening technique in their garage-cum-office/warehouse in Watsonville, they've garnered awards from various printing and clothing industry magnates for their quality work.

From the full-length leg design to a small red rose on the ankle, there are about 25 different designs to choose from for the tattoo lover who is a tad shy in the commitment department. The hosiery is only noticeable close-up.

The idea came to Gloria when her nephew was reading a tattoo-design book. Appalled at first, she decided to take a second look.

"I really liked the artwork," she said. "I tried to think of a way to make it life-size--any size."

A costume designer by trade and artist at heart, Gloria knew she was on to something. The hardest part, she said, was finding nylons that the water-based ink would stick to. They sampled more than 150 varieties of pantyhose before settling on a strong blend of 14 percent lycra and 86 percent nylon.

After she convinced Jim to join her, the couple patented the technique and the idea and took the hosiery to a New York fashion trade show, where it has exceeded their wildest expectations.

"Many women who wouldn't wear a tattoo would be into this," Sherer said. "When you're in your 40s, your body's not going to look like it did when you're younger. You just don't put a tattoo on skin that's aging."

Gloria Pequeen said, "It's a good way to be young and hip without taking the full step. I like it for the fantasy."

When asked if she'd "really be into those things," tattoo enthusiast Eaton replied, "Yeah, if I'd known about it then, I wouldn't have done it. The ones that are fake rub off and crack--you can tell."

Sherer chimed in, "A lot of parents would be supportive of that--it's a noninvasive way of wearing a tattoo."

Sure, a little rose on the ankle might be nice, but this dragon that Gloria Pequeen was wearing was downright flamboyant.

"People are wearing them in L.A.," she said. "It's a little more outrageous there."

Pequeen said they've sold at least 1,000 packages to China, Romania, Canada and Russia and other countries through their legart.com Web site and local boutiques.

"We're sold in a lot of 'those' stores," she said, referring to the area's more edgy and alternative fashion shops, although none of the designs she'll create will include skulls or crossbones.

"We've had requests to do the harder-edged stuff, but we're not going to do it," she said. Religious icons and corporate logos could be fair game, though.

After the din over Gloria Pequeen's legs died down, the Denny's returned to normal, the Pequeens drove home and Gloria probably peeled off that tattoo. Peeling it off has got to feel a lot better than sitting in a chair while some tool-wielding "artist" pricks your skin and fills it with ink--but then again, maybe that's part of the fantasy.

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From the July 30-Aug. 5, 1998 issue of Metro.

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