Maria Tash on Elevating the Art of Body Piercing—And Her New Jewelry Pop-Up
Remember when you felt suddenly compelled to get a handful of tiny piercings along your earlobes and cartilage a few years ago? You can thank Maria Tash for that. The jewelry designer and piercing expert has been chipping away at the grungy, unglamorous stigma of body piercing since 1993, when she opened her first shop in the East Village. By 2005, she’d become a go-to piercer and jewelry designer in New York’s fashion, art, and music circles, and upgraded to her current Noho space—but even then, she couldn’t call it a “piercing” spot. “It was a very different era,” she says. “It had to be about the jewelry, not the piercings. So it’s very exciting to now be embraced for this concept of multiple, unusual lobe piercings with really gorgeous jewelry.”
That’s a good way to sum up her business. Back in the ’90s, body piercings were “thick, industrial steel rings and barbells”—but her cult-adored jewelry is fine, super delicate, and comes in white, yellow, and rose gold studded with diamonds, opals, and other precious stones. Twenty years ago, the idea was that a thicker ring prevented infections, but when Tash realized that wasn’t the case, she started experimenting with those thinner, daintier pieces—and the industry followed. Perhaps the best mark of just how far she’s come is the fact that Liberty London—the 142-year-old department store—invited her to set up a permanent space on its ground floor which opened last August. And tonight, Tash is opening a pop-up at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship, complete with on-site piercings and a variety of ear, nose, navel, and nipple jewelry.
Photo: Courtesy of Maria Tash
At Saks, she’s bound to meet new customers of all ages; she says her demographic spans from teenagers to women in their 60s. “I have a lot of moms come in to get pierced with their daughters, and it’s a very sweet bonding experience,” she says. Even the most conservative mother (or grandmother!) might be tempted to add a few holes to her ears to accommodate Tash’s beautiful, feminine earrings; they’re a complete 180 from the piercings of their youth.
In that regard, Tash insists that multiple piercings are popular now because the jewelry has gotten so much better—not because getting pierced is a new or surprising concept. “Ear curation is not a trend,” Tash says. “It’s always been popular. What changed is that the jewelry is smaller and prettier, it’s custom-fit to your ear, and you can wear it continuously.” Which is to say, you don’t have to remove your cartilage rings to shower, sleep, or swim. Twenty-somethings getting pierced today likely don’t realize this wasn’t always the case. “Jewelry needs to be compatible with the fast-paced, modern Western tempo we’re living in,” Tash says. “You can’t have ear jewelry that you have to take out to sleep in when you’re running around and have a busy life. You need it to fit well [and seamlessly] so it isn’t in your way.”
Tash’s jewelry (and that of her imitators) becomes part of you. But Tash takes it a step further—from assessing the lobe to place a hole in exactly the right spot so the earring doesn’t droop or point outward, to developing new piercing mechanisms, to experimenting with new placements on the ear. “Sometimes, it’s almost like plastic surgery,” she says. “Well-placed piercings can downplay the things you don’t want to emphasize, or even hide scars or imperfections.”
Bet you didn’t think sticking a needle in your ear could be that nuanced. Her growing list of celebrity clients is testament to that, too: Tash has pierced the likes of Julianne Moore, Ashley Olsen, Scarlett Johansson (who wore an ear-full of Maria Tash jewelry to the Academy Awards earlier this year), and FKA twigs, who Tash